Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ma Bell Strikes Again

A couple or five decades ago, before the advent of microwave relay towers in the 70’s and satellite delivery in the 80’s and the dawn of the internet in the 90’s, most television and radio network programming was delivered by AT+T Long Lines, not affectionately known in the broadcast industry as “Ma Bell”. If your local radio station wanted to follow the home team on the road, they arranged through the Bell System’s local Toll Test Boards to have a telephone line (“Class D loop”) dropped at the ball park, arena, or field where the sporting event took place, and the announcers hooked their equipment up to the phone line and fed the play-by-play to the local station that way.

Stay with me, folks. I’m going somewhere with this.

Needless to say, since Ma Bell had no competition back then, AT+T was not really a very customer-friendly business. An aggressive congress broke up the huge conglomerate in the 80’s, giving birth to the “baby bells” which served large regions of the nation. Then microwave took over, then satellite delivery took over, and then the internet made things go so topsy-turvy that today, we have only a small group of giant “telephone companies” – and we’re back to where we started.

Enter the politicians.

A couple years back, AT+T wrote a dandy new telecommunications law for Wisconsin, and the politicians copied and pasted it into Bill form, passed it, and the guv signed it. The pols promised a new era of cable and phone competition, with vastly wider choices and “competition” which would force prices lower and lower every year and elevate customer service to a new and fabulous high.

We all know how THAT worked out.

A few weeks ago, the dweebs tried to do AT+T another big favor, by essentially killing WISC-NET. For those who don’t follow closely, WISC-NET is one of these UW entities that provides broadband cable access to rural areas of the state (sort of like that “Wisconsin Idea” thingy they talk about once in a while). The “premise” (under what passes for thinking up there these days) was that AT+T could FAR better serve these rural folks, and, by gum, why would you want a gubbmint operation takin’ away all that potential bizness from a good ole’ private-sektor company like AT+T??? Damn, you’re taking bread out of the mouths of the babies of AT+T employees!!!!

The thing is, that anyone who’s ever sat down and looked into it for one minute has discovered, is that AT+T….or insert the name of any other giant telecommunications company here…is able to cherry-pick the neighborhoods it “builds out” into, and that’s why the folks out in the sticks don’t have broadband internet.

Wanna get AT+T U-verse? Fine, if you live in the right neighborhood of Madison. Not in MY neighborhood, though. I live in ZIP code 53713, but not the RIGHT part of 53713, and the last time I asked AT+T when they planned to deliver fibre-optic service to my neighborhood, the answer was “we really don’t have any plans for that right now.” Yes, my small suburban enclave of VERY nice homes and well-manicured lawns is not “desirable” enough for AT+T to “build out”- even though you can get AT+T U-Verse just a mile from my door. Meanwhile, AT+T serves our neighborhood with “twisted copper pairs”, which is essentially 1930’s technology.

If you don’t have broadband internet (and we do, thanks to Charter) you can’t really participate fully in the 21st Century, and that’s why anybody with a head on their shoulders knows that we’ve got to serve our rural communities with broadband internet, and since the good folks at AT+T might have to actually SPEND some money to MAKE some money, they’re not going to do it.

This is the sort of thing GOVERNMENT is good at: making sure all citizens can participate in progress and democracy. Words like that last sentence really piss off the government-hating crowd that’s in power now. WISC-NET, after all, doesn’t “show a profit.” (Don’t get me started.)

It looks like WISC-NET will survive this putsch by the government-hating crowd up there at the top of State Street, which is a good thing. As the old saying goes, even a broken watch is right twice a day.


  1. Lemmeesee if I got this straight.

    You HAVE broadband.

    You prolly have television, right? Satellite, right? But not U-Verse.

    Are you arguing that broadband is a necessity, like electricity, water, and a road? That humans cannot exist without it?


  2. I see that Dad is erecting another straw man here.

    The point is not that broadband is a necessity like electricity, water, and a road and that humans cannot exist without it. It's absurd to say that.

    What's true is that broadband has become a necessity in this, the only world we know. Necessary for businesses to operate efficiently, permitting for many workers (such as Tim and I, to name two) to work beyond the confines of an office, and necessary for people to communicate in the most efficient possible fashion. In 2011, it equals access to the world.

    I am guessing, Dad, that you aren't on dialup,and that you wouldn't give up your broadband acccess, because it provides benefits you find useful, and which enhance your life in various ways. And if those things are useful enhancements (however they might be defined), why shouldn't they be widely available to everybody, even those in mysteriously undesirable zip codes?

  3. So. Is broadband a RIGHT? A right that others should pay for?

    By the way, my 'broadband' is on twisted-pair last-leg.

  4. What's truly absurd is the fact that people consider our severe overuse of and addiction to electricity a necessity.

    Also, don't forget about the schools and libraries that WiscNet benefits. It's not just about getting the best streaming quality on Netflix or ESPN for rural users; it's about having a QOS-oriented non-profit ISP that can provide the infrastructure needed for educational applications.

  5. "... my 'broadband' is on twisted-pair last-leg."

    Dear Dadster ... That's a fine whine. Being driven to school in a car that was not air-conditioned was probably another of the hardships you've soldiered through.

    Since you've already got yours, why not send those flat-footed others clear back to the 19th century?

    So what if their fire department uses buckets and must travel on unpaved roads? Who cares if those you look down on must chop their own heating fuel and read their bibles by candlelight? Forget sewer taxes! When the peasants feel the call, they can take a walk out in whatever weather is going on in the backyard. Humans can exist without such extravagances.

    Is electricity a right? Or a telephone? Or clean water? Humans can exist without them. Should public education -- which (gasp) others have to help pay for -- be a right? The sun would still rise and set on our species if only the fortunate few did not have to do without those amenities.

    Perhaps it is just that you were not paying attention when they were explaining the appropriate relationship between individuals and governments. It's called the social contract. It is written without fine print ... but no matter. It is probably far too late for you to bother reading up on it. Your pitifully misanthropic view of the world would surely prevent you from comprehending why each of us paying our share makes our society great.

    May the blessings of dialup be upon you.

  6. Gee. I'm still searching for an answer: is broadband (to the house) a "right" for which others must pay? (I'll concede ad arguendam that schools/libraries should have it.)

    Knickies-in-a-bundle can't seem to answer a simple question without a 500 word Condescension. Would meds help?

  7. My family runs two small businesses in rural Dodge County. Over the last 5 years, we've begged private telecommunications companies to service us but they refuse to lay broadband because our area is not profitable for them.

  8. I am not sure where anyone suggested broadband is a right for which others must pay--there you go erecting straw men again, Dad--but people like Kyle should at least have the right to buy it, shouldn't they? Even a libertarian ought to agree with that.

  9. A "right to buy"? I'm sympathetic with Kyle's family, but after diligent searching, I find no "right to buy" in any Constitution which is operative in the US.

    And they CAN obtain satellite service. Yes, it's expensive. So the question: do they REALLY "need" broadband? Because they CAN buy it.

    Not at the price they want.