for 9 January 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Good column, as always. I work for a large ISP, and a lot of what you said resonates with me. When I started here two years ago, I thought that I was getting into the sweetest gig ever. This was my first "New Economy" job -- I had never worked for a company whose primary focus didn't seem to be making huge profits. When this ISP opened up a call center in my home town, a lot of semi-skilled workers thought that this alone would deliver us from a lifetime of food service jobs.
Two years, and one merger later, I've seen a lot of "Old Economy" style re-orgs, which has flattened the structure of the company. It's now harder than ever to get a promotion, and annual raises are rarely higher than 2%. Many of my co-workers feel like they are trapped in a situation where they aren't making any progress in their careers. They resent being left to stagnate within the company.
Consequently, many of us (at least in Tech Support) are grumpy. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if our customers looked at us as being at least has helpful as PacBell when it comes to getting any assistance. When you are the equivalent of the McDonald's counter worker of the internet economy, it can be difficult to muster any enthusiasm for your work. And if the economy goes south you'll see a lot of us down at the EDD collecting checks to support addiction to expensive coffee and cheap weed.
I'm not sure whether or not most people who work for utility companies are affected by economic downturns, but I think it's pretty safe to say that they are not floating on an economic "bubble" that's threatening to burst. At least they have a union.
Thanks for your time
Actually, the employees we contact during First World Communications' now-almost-weekly service outages are generally a pretty polite and sympathetic bunch a strong indication that no union is involved but they are unable to provide any information or actual help, and this happens often enough that it is pretty clear this stingy policy comes from above.
We did think it worth noting that a major ISP in the heart of the internet provides service worthy of the Peruvian postal service: These outages, if continued unchecked, will eventually have a deleterious effect on Suck itself. More generally, it makes you wonder how the government ever thought the internet was going to survive a nuclear attack by the Russians.
The problem with "deregulation" is that it was the form, not the fact, of regulation that was modified. "Deregulation" in this case appears to me to be one of
a) a well-intentioned idea badly implemented, as the majority of California legislators are not acquainted with how markets actually work. b) a sneaky attempt to get rich quick on the part of certain legislators (rumors abound that some of our solons have equity positions in the power generation companies, where there are no limits on price/kW). c) an attempt by state Democrats to discredit the label "deregulation". d) an attempt by Greens to force energy conservation by bollixing power generation and making it impossible to create new capacity.
My bet is on (a), personally. One thing I've discovered is that stupidity is more common than malice. The other reason (a) is most likely is that no legislator wants to be associated with price increases for ANYTHING. It strikes me that California's politicians wanted to ensure they came out looking good, so they passed a law saying that prices could only go one way -- down. Unfortunately, this was not what happened.
You're probably on the right track, Robert. But the question remains. How can a service like electricity ever not fall into the hands of a monopoly? It's not control of the means of production that matters here (though the fact that PG&E offloaded actual generation is apparently the main reason raw prices are high). It's control of the means of delivery: Is Magua Power and Light really going to build all new pipes and wires to Walnut Creek and Hollister in order to compete with the big boys? This is not the way of Magua. Magua will put them all under the knife.
Enjoyed your article.
Interesting tidbit about the TVA...It was supposed to create more electric power and save on coalas well, right? Well, electricity not only got really cheap (hence the financial problems of the TVA), but the rising rivers duie to the dams allowed coal barges to travel to the old coal-fired power stations, continuing our reliance on that form of energy!
Thanks, Tom. In fairness to the TVA, these kinds of unintended are practically inevitable a good example of why this sort of centralized planning tends to end in tears. Not that we're sure, given the alternatives, that the TVA is such a unique failure in the first place.
Magua knows the utilities are dogs and slaves.
You wrote, "customers have been brutalized by authentication failures and router outages, most recently in a denial of service that lasted from December 18 until a few days after Christmas. Customers calling to bellyache were assigned a number and nothing else no estimated time for repairs, no offer of a rebate on the ol' monthly bill, nothing but the High Hat we thought only the government was allowed to give us. Everywhere else in the country, of course, ISP options are even more limited."
And in Canada, too! Here we have Great White North's version of First World Communications Rogers Communications, which provides internet service "The Wave" while it also delivers Cable TV and, lately, cell phone service.
I have been a long-time user of Rogers and I must say that the horror stories you describe in California sound eerily reminiscent of my ongoing trauma at the hands of Rogers the system is frequently down, the helpline prone to being unreachable, and the inflexibility of Rogers (until recently you HAD to have cable in order to get the internet connection even though it was a separate line) vexing.
Canada's federal watchdog on communications is the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and it is as spineless a regulator as you could ever find.
So a government-coddled monopoly can screw people with virtual (pun intended) impunity. And Rogers is buying sports teams and other media interests, so who knows how powerful and pervasive it will become.
Thanks Glenn. Magua has no illusions about Canadian companies and their imperial tendencies, having watched almost all the people he knew in his trade paper days become employees of the Thompson Corporation. Magua himself worked for Thompson at one point. Apparently Thompson is owned by a "Lord Thompson." Magua hoped Lord Thompson would visit his holding someday, letting his employees line the streets and cheer as Lord Thompson in his periwig rode in on his coach and six. But apparently he's not that kind of a lord.
The environmentalists are to blame for our current energy cost-crisis. Across the US, coal plants are being shut down because of strict air quality standards while dams are being closed in the western states in favor of salmon stock. The Sierra Club, Earth First, the Pembina Institute and many others are responsible for putting a heavier demand on fossil fuels, thereby increasing cost.
Further more, the days of the Beverly hillbilly is over. Rather than "shootin' up a bubblin' crude", farmers now fight tooth & nail with energy companies in an effort to protect the health of their families and livestock. Some Wiebo Ludwig for example have resorted to terrorist bombing, Kuwait style, while some governments such as BC Canada are not allowing drilling contractors touch known fossil fuel formations off shore in an effort to protect the coast line.
Contrary to belief, fossil fuel producers are just as worried us. If prices exceed wind and solar energy which is getting closer than you may think it will be the beginning of the end for fossil fuel. I believe the real culprits are on the demand side rather than the supply. Nature is simply lashing out at the wasteful consumer.
Driving myself, alone to and from work, everyday in a big truck.
Oh sure, go ahead and blame the tree huggers, "Scott." Everybody knows the oil industry and the Big Three auto manufacturers have conspired for years against alternative resources like the manure-burning car and electric plants fueled by the power of laughter.
Simply sagacious screed on the power/monopoly situation. But the weird thing is that, here in the Northeast, giant powercorps have been for years mothballing some of their operations because of "lack of demand." Or, more a propos, because they can't run them efficiently enuf. Vaguely reminiscient (tho not exactly a perfect metaphor, granted) of the govmint paying farmers not to grow even tho there are, as our mothers always said, people starving in Asia.
Deregulation has been as frenetic as a monkey on cappuchino, but it beats the heck out of the 800-pound gorillas known as monopolies beating us senseless until we don't notice the difference any more.
Again, very enjoyable piece.
Thanks, Simon. Remember the good old days, when all our household appliances were powered by little dinosaurs who would turn gears and make wisecracks, and you had to run your feet along the ground real fast to get your car running? And then when we all lived on that desert island, where you rode a bicycle to work a big fan and make The Professor's radio run? You didn't hear any bellyaching about lack of demand then!
Lovely article, as usual, and I'll check out that film, but w/r/t your quote:
"Power utilities, let's face it, are not the first word in glamour: To be a TVA hawk is to be immersed perpetually in back issues of Modern Power System and Public Utilities Fortnightly."
I'm confused ...
It's like you're saying the utilities are unglamourous, then, halfway through it, make reference to the full-frontal, sex-charged micro-press trade pub industry. Niche mags are moist-pantied, throbbing-bishop, spanish-flied Viagra juice. What says "glamour!" like "Beef" magazine, or the "Rock Products Cement Edition?" My company's been acquired by the biggest niche-mag micro-market trade paper publisher in the known universe, everyone's yelling how "Wall Street's gonna lap this up like Sunday marmalade off the houseboy," and I'm couting the days to vestation ...
So if you're working to paint an unflattering picture, you ought to stick with that gonad-shrivling mass-market drivel the Time-Warners regurgitate upon us; my peops at the Electric Co. and I'll hold onto our stock options AND our kleenex, thank you.
Don't worry, Steve. Magua spent enough time in the trade paper universe that he can barely stand to mention America's vast range of specialty publications, even as a joke. The most memorable title Magua remembers is the medical journal Pain. Magua would have loved to write for that one, but you had to be a real MD, and Magua is only the Doctor of Fun.
So true. At least you Sucksters can't complain, living as you are now, deep in your underground bunker. Do you eat just canned food, or do you have greenhouses and animals being bred and slaughtered? Dymertk massacred the provisional government's forces at the Bay Bridge, so I think he's your new warlord now. 2001 hasn't been that bad. The only moment when I got worried was when it looked like the rapture was taking place. But it turns out Jupiter was the one true God, and nobody got lifted up to bliss. We all had a good laugh after that. The sky's not dark anymore, but the hordes of cloned sheep and the climate change weren't forgiving. Everything looks like the Australian outback now. I'd go visit your territory, but I don't have enough 80's hair gel to bribe the roving biker gangs that control the highways. I'll stay here for a while. One of the SUV's you customarily mocked turned out to be an amazingly good shelter. Human sacrifices aside, I'm sure things will get back to normal soon. America's innocence will stick its cold, zombie hand out of the ground and climb triumphantly out of its grave.
Happy New Year!
Let's face it: America lost its innocence back when Johnny Hart outed himself as a four-panel Jack Van Impe, intent on clouding our minds with pseudo-creationist notions that dinosaurs and humans co-existed in prehistoric times. After that, we never again knew what to believe.
Sir or Madam,
Beck,dot com millionaires and SUVs do not a nation make.Let them slip into the anal abyss of our modern culture and let us eagerly await their equally appealing offsprings.
Face it,things will suck for a long time to come.
You saw right through us! We were making the whole thing up. But you see, things were never the same for us after Four Non-Blondes did that dance remix of "What's Goin' On?" How could you trust anybody after that?
This week has been more than a little disappointing. But at least you're not just recycling old material like most media outlets. Thank you for making some sort of gesture at effort. And kiss Polly for me when the ball drops, or whatever happens at midnight over on that coast.
But didn't the real disappointment come years ago, when you realized that House Party 3 really was Kid 'n' Play's last work together? Once they made House Party 4: Down to the Last Minute without the legendary twosome, it was pretty clear some unwritten contract had been forever broken.