Endangering the homeland

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If I were a terrorist, I would strike during a power outage when cell phone and landline communication are largely down. I’m not telling the bad guys anything new, but I pray government is listening.

     In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan as well as some powerful, well-placed Democrats whose campaigns were enhanced by lobbyists in the communications industry brought us “deregulation.” The Polyannaish idea was that breaking up well-oiled monopolies would create smaller, innovative companies which would compete, thus improving technology while lowering costs. It has never worked. That old greed magic that casts its spell quickly had monopolies selling off less profitable, unionized segments, forming new companies and using every financial trick in the bag, often with tax incentive, to make money for stockholders. The once well-served citizenry be damned. There was new technology, but designed largely to make big money at lower costs while reliability declined.

     In North Rockland, two electrical generation stations were sold and re-sold to make profit. Operations were reduced, shut down, and the tax worth decreased, hitting homeowners and businesses super hard. Thank you, deregulation.

     Superstorm Sandy has spotlighted another, more dangerous deregulation effect. Before the monopoly breakup, telephone technology and reliability had steadily advanced over the decades. While some trunk lines and service drops would come down in heavy wind, rain, snow and ice, most phones never lost a dial tone. There might be no power to the house, but Ma Bell’s central station juice was working.

     Under deregulation, we have the wonder of fiber optic cable, yes, with voice, data and TV coming through at the speed of light, but the system is dependent on pole transformers taking their power from the electric utility and from in-home battery back-up that lasts just hours in an outage. The old phones linked us to help in an emergency. Too often, the new, expensive technology dopes not.

     Most of us now carry cell phones, but they are dependent on recharging, and how do you do that in storm damage? They also cannot work if cell tower power is down because of the electric company’s outage.

     The companies that are making gazillions off ever-new technology are not spending enough to protect vital communication links. They will not install sufficient redundant back-up power systems, including natural gas generators. They will not move power supply from below ground that can flood to higher places on their cell towers. God forbid that stockholder profit should drop because the consumer must be better served. Thank you, deregulation forever aimed at profit first.

     This is a matter of national security. The first terrorist move is to disrupt communication and thus bring confusion. Greed has already set the stage for that in America. Do you see that “Homeland Security?”

     Let us build a reliable communication system, even if the stockholders end up with fewer coins in their pockets. Making money must include civic responsibility.

 The writer is a retired newspaperman.



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