Sunday, January 23, 2005

"Mass panic clogs BellSouth phone system"

I occasionally get really irritated at the sorts of nonsense that people assume is true just because it is ideologically correct. No doubt my irritation level is high because Lafayette has had to deal with incumbents and their agents who regularly and mistakenly mislead the community into regarding BellSouth and Cox as if they were "free enterprise" corporations rather than the monopolists that they have been and remain. There is and can be no "free enterprise" alternative to a public fiber-optic network for Lafayette. The coming monopoly will either be owned by the citizens and thus oriented toward serving us or owned by traditional monopolists and dedicated to extracting the maximum amount of profit from its advantage. And that excess profit will be sent off to Atlanta.

Every day we see stories that are explicable only as the malign effects of allowing monopolies to pretend they are like mom and pop hardware stores and retreating from the rational alternatives of public ownership or rational regulation.

A large part of why that happens is that our media doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between an actual story and the one the incumbents tell them and so report to the citizens of an area a story which comes close to fabrication but evokes no concerned response because it is comfortably ideologically correct.

The following story from North Carolina illustrates the point well. Go take a look at the story it is short and simple. Then return here for a review of the problems that it illustrates.

-------go on, take a look, the rest really won't make good sense unless you do---

Raw version of this story: Usage spike in North Carolina caused the wireline phone system to crash.

Ideologically correct version of this story: BellSouth and its competitors phone systems overloaded because the people panicked during a snow emergency. Unhappily the public service commission says it just isn't economically feasible to make it more reliable. (This is what the paper unreflectively reports.)

Rational version: BellSouth's phone system (which leases lines to other carriers) crashed during a usage spike due to an event that is unusual but hardly extraordinary and well within the reasonable service parameters for system design. Data show that capacity peaked out at 1.7 times normal usage. Officals at the state utilities commission, charged with regulating the monopoly landline's service standards, evaded discussing service issues, referring instead to cost factors over which they have no authority.

Analytical version: It is clear that regulatory oversight is out to lunch in North Carolina when a low-grade public excitement can bring down the basic telecommunications system. An exciting snow on North Carolina's beach's is unusual but certainly did not excite panic. These guys have hurricanes, for goodness sake. These citizens either have to learn to regulate their local monoplies so that basic services are reliable enough to count on during real emergencies (which this was not) or decide to make their essential services into utilities that will have service as its first priority rather than the current system of taking monopoly system income and investing it out-system merely to increase its stock price. (BellSouth could easily afford to upgrade its antiquated system with fiber throughout--if it weren't investing for highest return in other, non-wireline pursuits, many of which --like its enormous loser in Central and South American wireless were huge losers.)

We're doing the right thing here in Lafayette. The nation could listen and learn.

No comments: