Its distressing, this 21st-century American economy, with its simpering stock market, its lust for layoffs, its warehouses larded with vestiges of that sad relic variously championed as the Information Economy, the New Economy and the Digital Economy. The 21st-century American economy shrinks from its predecessors naiveté. "Buffoon!" whispers the Very Scary Economy, shaking its head. "Idiot!"
Im not about to explain how the economy went from a being a precocious teen-ager to a sour golem, but Im willing to fix part of the blame on the failure of broadband to widely reach American homes. Without broadband, the Internet is little more than an e-mail tool.
Without broadband, the Internet is a place you visit after flicking on the lights in the cold office in the house, turning on the computer and waiting . . . waiting . . . for it to boot up. Where you dial up and then wait . . . wait . . . for access to a place without music or video, a place of equatorial sloth, a place that waves "bye-bye" and disconnects you from itself on a whim.
Broadband makes the Web, and the Web has the potential to leaven the Very Scary Economy, but getting broadband isnt easy.
A year ago, when I moved my office from Washington, D.C., to my Baltimore, Md., home, I foolishly assumed Id be wallowing in broadband fat city in a snap. Nope. My ISP, MindSpring, wouldnt give me DSL. The local cable company couldnt give me Internet access either. Six weeks later, I had one phone line in the office, which I used for dial-up. My voice line was a cell phone.
Eventually, I found a company called Bazillion that offered me DSL through Covad Communications. It was great, until Bazillion — like so many other DSL providers — died. So I dialed up for a few more weeks, until I got a new DSL provider, Covad.
Covad, its name redolent of a Department of Defense acronym, will be dependable, if not plucky, I mused; corporate, if not wildly entrepreneurial, I reasoned. So my employer began shuttling off $54.95 per month to what I thought was the broadband leviathan for which I had yearned.
And now Covad has declared bankruptcy. Nevertheless, according to a company news release, "Covad believes that it will be able to continue with its current operations and business plan while supporting . . . over 330,000 end users."
Well, I used to believe in Santa Claus, and then guess what happened? I didnt! And I used to believe McDonalds was a marvelous thing, but you know what? Now I think its evil!
So in the end, it seems, were increasingly left with the painfully familiar. "Hello? Ma Bell monopoly? I need some DSL . . . "