Enough Already, Senator Schumer

Senator Charles Schumer seems to be spending a lot of his time griping about the mobile phone companies in the US. Sometimes, like in his push for Local Number Portability, there is a reasonable argument behind his tirades. But now, he’s just going over the top. As Schumer spends more time on wireless, he is learning more – just enough to be dangerous.Schumer (and others, you know who you are) is now saying that the wireless networks underperformed during the blackout. Uhhh…Isn’t this criticism a little misdirected? It was the electrical system that failed miserably, not the wireless system. Wireless was built the same way you build your home, with the expectation of electrical supply. It costs big money to put and maintain generators at each tower site – money that you or I don’t want to pay on our phone bill. Schumer then criticizes the phone networks because he’s learned that they are only built to handle calls from 25% of their customers at any one time (sounds high to me). He does not understand that this is the correct way to design any network or complex system. The Senator must have avoided classes on basic statistics where one learns about forecasting, predicting usage, and managing variability. Increasing capacity would result in wasted capacity sitting idle for the 99.9999999% of the time, when there is no crisis at hand. Building this capacity will cost a lot. Verizon is not LifeAlert. Wireless carriers offer communication, not safety. They do not owe you an emergency lifeline, and why are they the ones who have to locate you when you are in distress? We do not pay them for these services, yet we increasingly seem to expect them to save us from the world. Frankly, I don’t want my carrier to provide all these services if I have to pay for them. Politicians have nasty habits of spending money without realizing someone eventually has to pony up. Update: CTIA outgoing CEO Tom Wheeler adds the obvious argument that roads also were clogged during the power outage. In fact their clogged twice a day and every weekend. Why doesn’t government stick to their knitting and pave the whole country so we never have traffic jams.

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