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James Skinner
'People will talk to each other instead of blowing their brains out' - some hope

‘In 1976, I was working as a telecommunications consultant in Iran, on a multi-million dollar project designed to upgrade the then Shah of Iran’s telephone network. During that time, I had the opportunity to work alongside some of the greatest experts in the business. These were members of American Bell Inc., the huge U.S. telecommunications conglomerate that would eventually be broken up into AT&T and the Baby Bells through the US anti-trust ruling of 1978. The era of worldwide competition within the industry was just around the corner.

Apart from the legal changes, the technology at the time was moving from analogue to digital. This breakthrough would be the forerunner of the integration of computers and telecommunications. Mobile phone technology was still on the drawing board and light years away. Fax messaging was just emerging as the modern threat to telex and the next best thing since sliced bread in message transmission. Personal computers were unheard of and as for the Internet; well, no one in the business in the late 70’s could have imagined what was in store in the future. Nevertheless, I never forgot, to this day, the words of one of my partners in sin, Bill Jones from South Carolina when he said: ‘Good old POTS, short for ‘plain old telephone service’. Jim, just think of what we’re doing in this underdeveloped nation. You can’t go wrong in this world if you can offer humanity, and I mean the whole world a cheap gadget that they can use to talk to someone thousands of miles away. People will talk to each other instead of blowing their brains out.’ Poor philanthropist!

And yet, 25 years later, despite the explosion of all kinds of different services and oddball companies, the whole telecommunications industry is in a financial turmoil. OK so are many other sectors of business, but I happen to know about my lot. Take Worldcom (once called MCI, the original company that caused the break up of the Bell system) and Qwest to name but a few. They’re are all in Chapter 11. (protection from creditors in bankrupcy limbo whilst continuing to trade.)
Why is it like this?

NASDAQ is a mess, and the big guys like Deutch Telecom and KPN in Europe are struggling to make ends meet. When I retired as a pretty successful executive of one of the many new conglomerates, I felt relieved that I was finally out of the rat race. Yet I never lost track of Bill’s words. Somehow I felt that despite the tremendous advances that were taking place in the industry, from a worldwide perspective something was going wrong. In fact, I wrote a speech for my farewell party that more or less summed up my predictions for the future. It went something like this:
‘The world of telecommunications has become a universal whorehouse, whereby every national and private operator is striving to outpace the other. Gone are the days of bilateral agreements based on trust, understanding of the needs of a service for the public – read humanity – and the strict adherence to a set of rules and standards that have virtually disappeared. Present day trends in the field are a mirror image of the saturation of the developed nations fighting for the non-existent competitive edge that is so obvious in supermarket philosophy. Multinational or trans-national (as they are now called) environment feeds the hungry lust of these operators enticing them into supplying over sophisticated services for profit margins that border on the ridiculous.
Governments have lost control of the necessary legislation that protects the public and are blinded by their political move towards procurement of votes. The regulatory bodies are a farce and a puppet of the present political machinery that speaks of competitiveness and introduction of the same as the panacea of the developed world. What absolute garbage!

The underdeveloped world, on the other hand is struggling to understand this tidal wave of telecom hypocrisy as it tries desperately to update itself in the very basics of the new technology that has allowed this avalanche to take place. The very essence of the need for mankind to communicate has been lost in the whirlpool of profit making, marketing and a sluice of gimmicks to conquer those customers, who in their own minds do not care. There are millions of human beings today, who still do not know what it is like to pick up an instrument, invented one hundred years ago and talk to someone miles away! They have long been forgotten and replaced by soft-spoken, greasy-haired, manicured meglomanics selling their grandmothers for a tube full of bytes, or dial tone wrapped up in tinfoil with a funny hat.

The age of man being dominated by machines has arrived. This is demonstrated over and over again in computerisation, informatics, robotics and God only knows what other inhuman inventions that are yet to come. Press a button and it happens. Move a switch and whoosh! We are transported into Alice’s Wonderland, only the Mad Hatter is real.

But let us not despair. Let us go back to the beginning and start to analyse this monstrous fiend that now threatens to bury us in the spoils of the universe, and see whether there is any hope to salvage the wreck and rid it of the leprosy so that we may restore decency, respect and, above all ethics to this once glorious industry called Telecommunications.’
I never did get to say my piece!’
I wrote my little epitaph six years ago.

© James Skinner. September 2002



James Skinner

As expected,the ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time, just like Bette Davies in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’

James Skinner

SNIFF-SNIFF - Cruise Part 4
James Skinner on Carrys On Cruising The Med
Part 4: my cabin was tucked away between the ship’s kitchen and the funnel shaft

James Skinner
‘We don’t want to buy anything,’ says my wife, ‘can we please continue our tour!’ I’m petrified.

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