David Brin has a great post up about how cellular operators can make their networks useful in the case of a Katrina-like disaster that takes down their towers. He liked it so much he cross-posted to DailyKos, the Democratic political community.
The idea is simple. When the towers are down, let phones send SMS text to other phones, without going through the tower. Now the tower (and its attendant back-end) handles billing, but we’re talking about situations where the tower is down.
It should be a no-brainer.
But Brin has been banging on this drum for months now, and there has been no response from the oligopoly. Most pointedly there has been no response from the duopolists, AT&T and Verizon, who between them control most of the phone market as well as the U.S. cellular market.
This is an important moment, and it’s vital that we understand it. Once you have a monopoly, or a duopoly, the only weapon you have left to force change is talk. People can talk, and government can talk louder, but at the end of the day, if the monopolist chooses to fight, even the government may find itself impotent.
That’s the way of it. I welcome conservatives’ going over that last
paragraph and trying to find holes in it. The fact is that without a
market, power is partly invested in the government and partly in the
monopolist. If the monopolist insists on playing hardball, it can
safely ignore even the most sensible demands.
Issues like net neutrality would not be on the table if the local phone
and cable monopolists were not in near-absolute control over local
Internet access. The solution to this problem, the cellular problem
described above, to ALL our problems with telecommunications, is simple.
Break up the monopolies. Guarantee competition. With our present level
of technology in this area, there are no technical barriers to this.
With the Internet "cloud," a collection of voluntary agreements among a
variety of networks, all you need is competition to guarantee
continually falling prices for bits inside the pipe. With 802.11, and a
separation of services from provisioning (as is done in Europe, and was
intended here by the 1996 Telecom Act) we can have the same thing here.
There is nothing communist or socialist about any of this. The man who
created our anti-trust policy, John Sherman (above), after whom the Sherman
Anti-Trust Act was named, was the brother of William T. Sherman, the
Civil War General. He didn’t even know what Communism was. His
intention was simple, to keep a competitive market.
Now that the Bush Administration has built this bridge to the 19th century, perhaps we can use John Sherman, who died in the year 1900, to cross it back to the 21st, where the rest of our world lives.