Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lost Verizon

It's been two weeks now without phone service at the office. The calm of no ringing phones has quickly given way to the frustration of trying to conduct business without phone service. The data lines and internet connections, have degraded quickly as Verizon has embarrassingly failed to provide timely repairs or temporary replacement lines.

There can be no excuse for this sort of management failure on the part of Verizon, and its inability to resolve our problems speaks volumes about how the scion of the Bell dynasty has been reduced to a pathetic pretender to the telecom throne.

The giant telecom conglomerate Verizon is the legacy provider of telecom service in this part of the country, tracing it's corporate roots all the way back to the original Bell System, AT&T. From the Ma Bell breakup to the reassembling and reconstituting of various "baby Bells", we now have Verizon, a made up word (thanks, marketing focus groups!) that is the name of the dominant telecom giant that it is today.

How did this come to pass? What made the monopoly that was AT&T, and its legacy companies unshackled from government oversight and forced to compete in the free market (but not really) turn into this shameful and shameless unresponsive and unrepentant bloodsucker of American capitalism?

There are many reasons, but I would focus on the following main causes. Freed from government regulations allowed what I'll now call Verizon, to pursue the modern capitalist trend of the past several decades of squeezing every last drop out of its resources. Its well paid, highly skilled (and unionized) workforce had been deemed expendable. The most experienced workers were bought out and in many cases coerced into retirement or simply let go. Just look in your local Pennysaver and you'll see no end to the ads placed by ex-Verizon workers now in business for themselves or freelancing in telecom and computer networking. They took their years of knowledge and experience out the door with them when Verizon decided that they preferred a few more cents per share of profits rather than a competent workforce.

Another modern trend of American capitalism, the methodology embodied by the term "just in time". Companies have discovered and implemented the notion that by only mobilizing additional assets "when needed" there a still a few more cents of profit per share to be had. For that matter, why even have the assets needed for any emergency when you only need them during an emergency?

Like so many bright ideas spit out by business schools of the modern era, they don't hold up in the real world. Disruptions of supplies for companies using the "just in time" method are overly susceptible to shortages during times of great stress. One need only look at the behavior of the electric utilities that rely upon shipping in lineman in anticipation of storm damage. This can never adequately work because it takes much too long to mobilize far flung workers, takes too much to house imported workers (especially during times of greatly increased demand for hotels and other temporary housing) and the wildly expensive cost of paying this army of mercenaries that will always be too little and too late. And what about the need of these workers in their home districts? Superstorm Sandy caused such widespread damage, who could really expect any local utility being able to spare any workers?

The situation Verizon finds itself in is quite similar. Their decimated workforce, inexperienced and under staffed, is also demoralized by the antagonism the company brings to bear with unending anti-union policies. It becomes a case of the blind leading the blind when in the heart of NYC, Times Square, a severed phone line cuts service to a swath of midtown and the customers are left to languish as Verizon bumblingly is unable to understand or repair it's decidedly 20th century technology. You could describe this situation in many ways, but the simplest might just be "idiotic". 

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