Saturday, December 11, 2010

Infrastructure: A Modest Suggestion

As I was checking out a new mobile phone company, CREDO by name, I happened to check customer reviews at the same time. CREDO is a new provider that seems to be associated with Working Assets, a company that is careful who and what causes it supports. CREDO is trying to woo liberal or progressive customers away from AT&T, Verizon, et al.
CREDO apparently buys its actual services from Sprint. We were with Sprint at one time and dumped them for two reasons: 1) their service coverage was generally lousy; and, 2) they tried to bill us $1,000 for services not rendered—they had managed somehow to integrate with our bill the bills of two other Schmidts, but these two lived in the Bronx, whereas we live in North Carolina. It took a lot of calling to get them to admit they had screwed up big time. So, we dumped Sprint and have had no wish to return—reason number 1 still prevailed.
But it set me to thinking about our nation’s infrastructure, and how it is generally falling apart. That part which is relatively new, like the cell phone infrastructure really sucks—it’s spotty, being great in some areas and awful in others. When you travel long distances, you realize how screwed up is the cell phone infrastructure.
I realize in this country that many of our citizens worship at the altar of our private sector capitalist system. The same folks seem to hate anything associated with our Government, despite the fact that our Government actually performs pretty well—see Medicare, Social Security, and our Military, and other vital systems that protect us. But, I wondered what, for example, the national interstate highway system would be like, had we delegated it to the three major auto manufacturers. I can imagine not only bridges to nowhere, but roads to nowhere all over the country. This is essentially what we have done with our telecommunication system. At one point, we simply delegated it all to Ma Bell, and while not perfect, the phone system worked most of the time.
Then Jimmy Carter decided to break up Ma Bell in the name of “competition”. Yeah, that’s the ticket—deregulate telecommunications, break up Ma Bell, and just for the hell of it, deregulate the airline industry. Both industries have been a mess ever since. At one stage we had a healthy and competitive (globally) telephone system and airline system. After we deregulated, and brought in the holy grail of capitalism—competition-- both systems seem to implode. Oh we got a lot of competition, but most of it seemed counterproductive.
So, here we are 30 years later, and (back to the starting point . . . finally) everybody hates both industries. In reading over the customer reviews, the dominant kind of review was, customers who thought the coverage was awful, the service was worse, and an urgent need to carefully monitor their bills. The airlines, if anything, get worse reviews. I personally believe the airline industry is completely dysfunctional.
So, I’m thinking that maybe Obama should begin to talk about replacing the cell phone infrastructure with some national grid, designed by some NASA-like entity and contracted to the private sector to construct. The infrastructure would provide the same (high) quality coverage whether you were in some remote spot in the Bronx, or the wide open plains of Indiana, Kansas, or Montana.
Also, the system would operate such that the customers would be free to buy any piece of equipment they wished to own, from an I-Phone, to the least expensive Chinese-crap cell phone on the market, without regard to which cell phone company you wanted to use. Then you could select your carrier and the kind of service package you wanted, based on your needs. The carriers would have to compete on cost and quality of service, but your basic service, i.e., the ability to make a call wherever you happened to be standing/sitting would be a constant.
And maybe, under such a system, Apple’s I-Phones would actually be able to make calls. Now that would be novel, huh?
Oh, and the system would have to operate such that you wouldn't need both a cell phone and a "landline" phone service. One system would cover both needs.
Just a thought . . .
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