Don’t You Get It? The Place Is Falling Apart

By | January 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

This is not a report from Smallville, Kansas, after a tornado. Nor is it a report from Moosehead, Maine, after a Nor’easter. No, it is a report from the middle of Los Angeles, our second most populous city, after three weeks of fine weather and one day of light rain.

We live in a hilly area of Los Angeles, and except for a corner of the back yard, there is very weak cell-phone reception. In other words, ATT is unable to provide really reliable DSL or phone service, and Verizon is unable to provide virtually any cell-phone service. So much for the “information economy” in our second-largest city.

But that’s when things were going well. On the morning of Jan. 2, our land-line phones went dead ‒ no dial tone. Eventually we were told, second hand, that a water main had burst, damaging an ATT cable. This is no surprise. Water mains burst frequently, because Los Angeles has no program to replace old pipes, but acts only when one bursts. We were also told that about 38 customers in our area were also without land-line phones.

Later we were told that new cable was laid, but before splicing could begin, the cable was damaged in a second place. Perhaps this was done by a construction worker with a backhoe. Many construction workers here speak little or no English ‒ perhaps he misunderstood his instructions.

Breaking news: In order to have an “information economy,” first you need to be able to communicate information. You need to understand a common language, and you need a means to communicate.

We continued to call ATT every few days, sometimes even succeeding in getting through the menu and actually speaking to a human being. Each time, we were told either (1) nothing, or (2) that repairs would take an unknown amount of time. Our landline phones had been out for almost three weeks. Finally, late on the night of Jan. 20, service was restored ‒ we hope permanently, or at least until next week.

Meanwhile, we were not inactive. I got a cell-phone booster from Amazon for $399. After some experimentation, we now get two bars instead of one in most parts of our house. The sound is clearer, but calls are still dropped. That is, in a life-threatening emergency, we may be able to reach 911.

And even then, there might be a problem. Land-line phones go to the Los Angeles 911 center, where the callers’ names and addresses are automatically displayed on the computer screen. But cell-phone 911 calls go to the Highway Patrol, where response can be much slower.

A neighbor on our block has cell-phone service that is even spottier than ours. Her husband works out of town for weeks at a time. Even worse, their alarm system is tied to the land-line phones, which were out. In short, she was alone in a house with virtually no way to summon help ‒ except to run out in the street and start screaming. And you call this a First World nation?

Another neighbor has a land-line phone with a different prefix that was still working. ATT could have suggested changing our dead line to a live one, but they didn’t. Instead I tried to suggest it to them, but I found no one who listened. In short, fail to repair the line ‒ then fail to offer an alternative. This is called “service” in a “public utility.”

Finally we gave up on ATT and called Spectrum, formerly Time-Warner Cable. A technician arrived in a few days, told us we need the construction team to come up and install the cable, and then scheduled us for phone installation on Jan. 25. The construction team was due to arrive between 9 am and 7 pm on Jan. 17. Concerned that this would really happen, we went to the Spectrum store, where a sales associate accessed the computer file. I saw it myself ‒ construction was indeed scheduled for Jan. 17.

Jan. 17 arrived. My wife called three times, each time reaching a different human being who reassured her that the team was indeed on the way. But no one arrived. The next day we called again, and were told that no visit had been scheduled. Apparently this is the company’s way of diffusing responsibility: The visit is scheduled, the team is on the way, there was no visit scheduled.

Ultimately the crew arrived Jan. 18. Whether or not they succeeded in attaching the cable we will discover when the phone installers arrive, hopefully on Jan. 25.

Another way of diffusing responsibility is to hire subcontractors for cable construction and phone installation: No, we didn’t do it, a subcontractor did it. Perhaps this is what happens when companies are organized not by business people, who know how to do things, but by lawyers and MBAs, who know how to evade responsibility.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
− Peter Drucker, economist and author

So there we were, in the middle of our second most populous city, with no land-line phone for 19 days, only a vague hope for a cable connection, and spotty cell-phone service that might succeed in reaching 911. First World nation? Really?

If you want to have an “information economy,” it doesn’t take an Einstein to know that first you must have reliable information, and then you must be able to communicate it. Smoke signals or yelling loudly just don’t qualify.

All the Teslas we can produce won’t change one iota of this, if the roads crumble with pot holes, and the power grid becomes unreliable.

All the iPhones the Chinese can turn out won’t help a bit, if we don’t build more cell towers, and service becomes even spottier.

All the clever electronic devices we can invent won’t do a thing, if we rely on poorly educated young people with limited English and math skills to run them.

A Third World nation with high-tech gizmos is still a Third World nation, especially if the gizmos work intermittently at best. A nation that cannot provide reliable phone service in the middle of its second-largest city is already well on its way to being Third World.

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