Too big to innovate

Last week, a company called LightSquared made the news briefly.  Sadly, the news was effectively a requiem for LightSquared.  You see, LightSquared was attempting to blow the wireless Internet industry wide open in the United States, and they ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Federal Communications Commission and all the incumbent wireless providers.

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ReadWriteWeb had a great article exploring the competitive issues here – well worth a read.  I can’t convince you that the FCC did anything wrong in this case, but I’d like you to survey the competitive landscape in this case and think about who stood to win and who stood to lose if LightSquared came to market.

To be sure, the established wireless carriers were at risk here if LightSquared really came to market, but what about consumers?  What would it mean to customers in rural or under-served areas to have a real choice for Internet access?

By choosing not to require a little innovation from incumbents, the FCC made a pretty powerful statement about how it values competition.  Remember, of course, that this same FCC just got done canning AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile — why?  Because it would have restricted competition.

Tell me, now — how much do you really believe the motivation of the FCC in these two cases?  I’m feeling pretty skeptical, myself.

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How do you know that?

Too often these days, I see people spewing information from virtually any source at all without any regard for whether it’s even remotely accurate.  Clearly, this isn’t a brand-new problem:  we’ve all played “telephone”, and who could forget this classic line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.

But even though this problem has been with us forever, the amount of information bombarding us each day and the speed with which it propagates has turned this into an epidemic.  This being an election year, information fraud is rampant, but even without the bonus of pending elections, Twitter, Facebook and even email make it absurdly easy for information to “go viral” whether it’s right or not.

Once upon a time, I think we trusted sources like newspapers and even TV news, but given the editorial bias we see time after time, are any of these sources really sacred anymore?  Newspapers, magazines, television networks — all of them exist only to the extent that they can sell eyeballs, and that raises the specter of editorial bias.  Even textbooks bend to their audience, catering to evolutionist or creationist audiences, for example.  There’s no such thing as independent anymore.

As a responsible citizen, I believe each of us has a duty to be aware of how we know the things we think we know, and whether we’ve got any real assurance that we can trust those things merely because of where it originates.  Each of us, then, is responsible for creating our own independence in our information sources.  Trust has to be part of this, of course, but don’t forget that information you can cross-reference from two or more sources is of far greater value than information from a single source, and never, ever, forget the motivations that might be behind any given source.

How do you judge the quality of information you see daily?  Better yet, how do you teach your children to judge this quality?

America’s new-found fossil fuels

Over the last couple of years, it seems we’re “finding” all sorts of new oil and natural gas fields in the United States.  But if you thought all this newly-discovered oil and gas is really new, think again.  In a lot of cases, these fields hold fossil fuels that were too expensive to extract in the past.  When the price of oil rises, some of these expensive resources become viable.

See Gasland: The Movie for more information

See Gasland: The Movie for more information (Photo credit: ltmayers)

“Fracking” is one of the techniques used to harvest some of these fuels, and a glimpse into the methods used in fracking helps illustrate these costs.  In a recent article (Hundreds of tons of chemicals needed to frack wells), Columbus Business First documents some of the materials needed to make these wells productive.  According to the article, one of the wells studied consumed “more than 484 tons of chemical additives, 10.5 million gallons of water, and 5,066 tons of sand to be fracked.”

Although America’s energy independence is vital to our economic sustainability, we cannot forget to account for the direct costs of all these chemicals and processing costs, but also the indirect and unknown costs should these chemicals prove to cause environmental problems in the future.  There’s no free lunch, and no more cheap oil anymore, either.

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