TCS Daily

Friday Fodder: You're An Evil Predator; Now Teach My Kids

By Nick Schulz - November 19, 2001 12:00 AM

Microsoft Goes to School -- The settlement of the Microsoft anti-trust case got interesting this week - and developments revealed the laughably absurd nature of much of the suit against the company. Reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere revealed that Mister Softee will "give $1 billion worth of software and related goods and services to needy schools" as part of its settlement.

First the lawyers vilified the Redmond behemoth for years, labeling it a predatory, monopolistic cancer unfit to do business. Now these lawyers want the company's goodies in order to distribute them to little school kids. Go figure.

Actually, not all the lawyers are thrilled. Some of them hate the idea and are howling mad about it. The most revealing cries came from the tempestuous California Attorney General Bill Lockyer who is furious with the emerging settlement terms. "It`s a little like Big Tobacco being found guilty of selling cigarettes to minors, and the remedy is for them to agree to give them free cigarettes," Lockyer said.

To Lockyer and other predatory AG's and their trial lawyer allies, Microsoft is not a multi-billion dollar global company that creates products that millions of people around the world love and use every day. It's just a poisonous monster that needs to be laid low. This is precisely the sort of arrogance that led to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's public spanking as his order to break up the company was vacated. Will they ever learn?

One good feature of the settlement: the fees for the trial lawyers won`t be tied to the size of the settlement as is often the case in big class-action cases. The judge will determine the fees for the lawyers. This is a good sign. Make sure to see Jim Glassman's story on the op/ed page of the Wall Street Journal on Monday to understand why this blow to the trial lawyer lobby is such a welcome change from business as usual.

Strike Up the Broadband Now let's turn our attention to some actual monopolist predators. A fascinating story in the Los Angeles Times tells about some Californians who are getting together in their communities and developing "a cooperative, community-based endeavor that provides wireless high-speed bandwidth, eliminating monthly fees charged by telephone and cable companies... these activists are cobbling together systems in garages and attics, taking the wired high-speed connections that come into their homes and throwing them open to neighbors."

Now Friday Fodder certainly doesn't condone this sort of piracy - it's the same as people who splice cable lines in a building without letting the cable providers know. It's arguably criminal and certainly unethical. And the hippy-dippy community vision thing these people use to justify their petty theft is nauseating.

But this development does reveal something important. Contrary to popular belief, lots and lots of people lack broadband access not because they don't want it. The extraordinary lengths these people are going to in order to get it demonstrates that Americans are starved for it.

People lack broadband because it is too expensive and it isn't readily available everywhere. Why? There is too little competition in the telecom industry to offer that last mile of broadband access. The failure of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is largely to blame - the mega-Bell companies continue to hold a monopoly on service. Congress needs to understand this and break the lock that strangles the last mile of pipe.

The article mentions David Sifry, the CTO of a Silicon Valley start-up who says "The availability of broadband to the home is diminishing, not increasing." He's right. Rep. Billy Tauzin, Chairman of the Commerce committee in Congress, should take notice.

Say Yes to Drugs -- Make sure to watch this webcastof a debate featuring Andrew Sullivan arguing in defense of the miracle-making pharmaceutical industry. Sullivan, an HIV-positive writer and editor of the highly respected website, is among the most articulate and thoughtful defenders of innovative big drug companies. He rightly thanks them for helping keep him alive, and he knocks down the litany of populist arguments employed to bash the industry. At the recent global trade talks in Doha, the pharmaceutical industry got rolled. Big Pharm makes for a big, easy target, but Sullivan explains - calmly, coolly, and intelligently - just how lucky we in the Western world are to have it around.

Solid Goldberg - Friday Fodder wants to thank the incomparable Jonah Golberg, the Editor of National Review Online for mentioning TCS in his article this week. Jonah writes the best column on the Web. And his nationally syndicated newspaper column is growing like gangbusters as papers around the country are starting to gobble it up like Thanksgiving turkey. Write your local paper and tell it to pick him up.

Green With Envy -- Check into TCS next week for our coverage of the growing controversy over the scientist and author Bjorn Lomborg. Environmental extremists are savaging him. One activist threw a pie in his face at a recent book event - now how's that for an argument? They are hoping to sink his new book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" although they are too late for that since it is selling extraordinarily well on Lomborg is a former Greenpeacenik and is in the crosshairs for daring to question the bogus assumptions and shoddy science that undergird the green movement. This will get ugly, so stay tuned.

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