TCS Daily

The Daley Grind

By James K. Glassman - November 19, 2001 12:00 AM

FALLS VILLAGE, Conn. - Here's a weird one. SBC Communications, one of the four mega-Bell monopolies that control 92 percent of local telecom connections, has named William Daley as its president. Daley will be second in command to Ed Whitacre, chairman and CEO of the company that was created with the merger of Ameritech, Pacific Bell and Southwestern Bell.

This is like AT&T Broadband naming Newt Gingrich its new president. Weird.

William Daley is best known, not for his telecom savvy, but for his political connections. He's a former Commerce Secretary and was Al Gore's presidential campaign chairman last year.

Daley's immediate task will be to oversee SBC's "efforts to push legislation through Congress that would make it easier for the regional Bells to roll out high-speed Internet service," writes Steve Labaton in today's New York Times. "Mr. Daley and Mr. Whitacre said that the company's push into those markets was vital to increasing profits."

Well, I'd put it a little differently: Daley's job will be to get the Tauzin-Dingell bill passed and thus gut the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and wipe out the remaining competitors to the mega-Bells, leaving the field free for an end-to-end monopoly takeover of U.S. telecom service. And that, of course, will mean higher prices and deteriorating service. Why Congress would want to re-monopolize telecommunications is one of the mysteries of the age. It's hard to see the political value - already, Bell customers are mad as hell.

The House Republican leadership knows that Tauzin-Dingell is radioactive. The last thing that smart folks like Denny Hastert and Dick Armey want to do with a close election coming up in a year is to force their members to walk the plank, required to choose between constituents -- the Bells on one side and competitive telecom companies, from AT&T and WorldCom to CLECs like McLeod on the other. But Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has made the obnoxious bill his pet project, and leaders are reluctant to deny him a vote. So far, they have sent a strong signal that they don't want T-D to come to the floor. They've delayed it for about half a year, but Tauzin wants a vote next month.

We'll see. The SBC move could easily backfire. This is NOT a partisan issue, but by naming Daley as president, SBC is making it one. The William Daley I know - a nice guy but a fierce Democrat - wants Dick Gephardt, not Dennis Hastert as his Speaker.

After the Florida vote, Daley - schooled in tough-guy Chicago politics by his father and brother, both mayors - charged that George W. Bush "blithely dismissed the disenfranchisement of thousands of Floridians." On Nov. 10, 2000 - almost exactly a year ago - he called voting irregularities in Florida "an injustice unparalleled in our history."

As I said earlier, a weird choice. What's behind it? One answer may be desperation. The Bells don't want to compete, and they are pulling out all the stops to get T-D passed. Frequently, however, desperation leads to error.

I can't say I don't like Daley personally. He's a nice guy. The last time I saw him was at a ranch outside Vail last summer. We were playing pool, neither of us very well. He was way ahead, but I won when he sank the 8-ball. Now, there's a nice metaphor for the fate of Tauzin-Dingell.

Bin Laden TV

Don`t miss Fouad Ajami`s piece in Sunday`s New York Times magazine about Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic cable news network. Ajami shows how the network uses the idiom of journalism but is, in fact, ""an aggressive mix of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, and these hostilities drive the station`s coverage."" It is ""inflammatory,"" and it glorifies and romanticizes Osama bin Laden.

Ajami also reminds Americans that ""Al Jazeera is the only Arab television station to have achieved global fame, but its status is inflated. The truth is, other Arab channels reach much wider audiences,"" including the London-based Middle East Broadcasting Centre, which shows ""the region`s most popular program, `Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,'" and has five ""blandly professional"" news broadcasts of its own daily. A second ""hugely popular"" network is Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, with both entertainment and news.

Ajami is skeptical about the administration`s attempts to use Al Jazeera to its own advantage by having key American officials state their case on the network. He writes, ""No matter how hard we try, we cannot beat Al Jazeera at its own game. But one thing is sure: there is no need to reward a channel that has made a name for itself through stridency and anti-Americanism.""

Instead, he suggests giving a scoop -- such as an interview with President Bush -- to MBC or LBCI. Good idea. Let`s stop helping radical Islam and a satellite channel that is shockingly biased, vicious and downright disgusting.

Early Bird Gets Meteor Shower

I got up early yesterday morning (4:45 a.m. to be precise) to see the Leonid meteor shower. What a performance by the heavens! A shooting star every two seconds or so, and some real fireballs out here in rural northwestern Connecticut. I expected to see little chunks of iron -- or, better, diamonds from the sky -- littering the lawn in the morning. But no such luck. But check out a piece by my colleague -- the esteemed astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas -- containing her reflections on the shower. "

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