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Old 08-26-2004, 03:01 PM
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Default More depressing than the stolen Scream...

One billion people still drink unsafe water

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GENEVA - More than one billion people drink unsafe water and over 2.6 billion, around 40 percent of the world’s population, have no access to basic sanitation, U.N. agencies said on Thursday.
But, y'know, most of them are in Africa, China and India...so who cares about them anyway? :fuming:
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Old 08-26-2004, 03:16 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

That's appalling. I was just reading a little BBC history essay about how clean water and sanitation in Victorian London changed the face of disease prevention.

One hundred and fifty years later, here we are. :(
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Old 08-26-2004, 03:47 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

The free market will sort it out. And if it doesn't, that just shows they deserve all those diseases.
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Old 08-26-2004, 04:48 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

I get that the result is a billion+ people drinking unsafe water, but I don't understand what the problem is. I mean of course it's probably economic, but since the article mentioned "some 83 percent of people already having access to supplies giving some guarantees of safety", why is that not solving the problem? :?
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Old 08-26-2004, 07:31 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by viscousmemories
I get that the result is a billion+ people drinking unsafe water, but I don't understand what the problem is. I mean of course it's probably economic, but since the article mentioned "some 83 percent of people already having access to supplies giving some guarantees of safety", why is that not solving the problem? :?
It's probably because of privatized water systems currently in effect throughout the world. People may have access, but they can't afford it, or they can't afford enough.

In South Africa (Soweto, IIRC), for example, some French company was installed as the private water provider as part of an agreement with the IMF. They did agree to provide some clean water for free, but the amount they provided was about half what the WHO recommends to sustain life. So the poor people were still forced to drink dirty water, which led to a cholera epidemic.

The model was so successful that they decided to do the same thing in Johannesburg, too.

Hooray for free enterprise.
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Old 08-26-2004, 08:05 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Ah, I think I see. So they have "access" to the supplies, they just can't afford it. I guess that's not unlike those people who imply there is no serious poverty in America. After all, it's entirely possible for everyone to get their needs met here. Right?

So is that another example of the kind of shit people are constantly condemning the IMF for, or something the IMF has no real say in or control over?
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Old 08-26-2004, 09:37 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Tangential to this issue, I'd recommend that everyone see the documentary "The Corporation".... There is, amongst other horrors outlined, a bit on Bechtel being contracted to provide water in Bolivia and, as part of that, a provision of the IMF support of the contract to Bechtel prevented Bolivians from even capturing rainwater...they were captive to Bechtel. Until they experienced a revolt/rebellion/revolution.

Watch water. Clean, potable water is an increasingly rare commodity...even in the western U.S.

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Old 08-26-2004, 09:56 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Sounds like an interesting film, godfry. I'll look for it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by godfry n. glad
Watch water. Clean, potable water is an increasingly rare commodity...even in the western U.S.
Have you seen this thread? You might find it interesting and/or have something to add.
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Old 08-26-2004, 11:57 PM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by viscousmemories
So is that another example of the kind of shit people are constantly condemning the IMF for, or something the IMF has no real say in or control over?
This is precisely the sort of thing that people condemn the IMF over. They actually include deals to privatize public goods and services in their loan agreements. They reportedly also include other extra-legal agreements regarding instituting martial law, charging school fees, selling public assets, and across-the-board union busting. (Here's a good example.)

And apparently, the CBC did a two-hour documentary called "Dead in the Water" that dealt with water privatization. I haven't seen it, but I'd like to figure out how to get a hold of a copy.
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Old 08-27-2004, 12:08 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by lisarea
This is precisely the sort of thing that people condemn the IMF over. They actually include deals to privatize public goods and services in their loan agreements. They reportedly also include other extra-legal agreements regarding instituting martial law, charging school fees, selling public assets, and across-the-board union busting. (Here's a good example.)
Thanks for the link. I guess. :(

Quote:
And apparently, the CBC did a two-hour documentary called "Dead in the Water" that dealt with water privatization. I haven't seen it, but I'd like to figure out how to get a hold of a copy.
I'll keep an eye out for it m'self. Thanks, Lisa.
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Old 08-27-2004, 12:39 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by lisarea
In South Africa (Soweto, IIRC), for example, some French company was installed as the private water provider as part of an agreement with the IMF. They did agree to provide some clean water for free, but the amount they provided was about half what the WHO recommends to sustain life. So the poor people were still forced to drink dirty water, which led to a cholera epidemic.

The model was so successful that they decided to do the same thing in Johannesburg, too.

Hooray for free enterprise.
Where were the people getting clean water from before the French company began offering it at a price? Unfortunately it does cost money to purify water. When the resource is scarce how do you make it go as far as possible other than to charge for it so people don't waste it?

It would be nice if drinkable water was free, but it isn't and I have no solution for that. We could say that government should do it, and where I live government does do it, but government then needs to spend money to do it and this comes from the citizens just the same as it does under a private company supplying the water.

No matter how you slice it, it takes money.
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Old 08-27-2004, 12:50 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
Where were the people getting clean water from before the French company began offering it at a price? Unfortunately it does cost money to purify water. When the resource is scarce how do you make it go as far as possible other than to charge for it so people don't waste it?

It would be nice if drinkable water was free, but it isn't and I have no solution for that. We could say that government should do it, and where I live government does do it, but government then needs to spend money to do it and this comes from the citizens just the same as it does under a private company supplying the water.

No matter how you slice it, it takes money.
Indeed. And a lot of these people live in areas where there are open sewers, or the waste simply runs back into the streams; where people and animals bathe in the only water available for drinking, etc.

As far as simple supplies, a microbiologist named Rita Colwell did a study showing that something as simple as using 2 coffee filters to strain water could eliminate almost all the Vibrio cholera from drinking water. But while we take those kind of things for granted, it's difficult for many people to even get their hands on something as mundane as coffee filters.
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Old 08-27-2004, 12:51 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
No matter how you slice it, it takes money.
Of course. But I think the idea is that in a democracy the government will adjust the prices according to the interests of the contituency (which means reasonable cost and availablity are going to be concerns) whereas a private company (and in this case I think we're talking a monopoly) is only going to be interested in getting the most money for the least water, with no regard for the availability to anyone who can't pay the high cost.
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Old 08-27-2004, 01:01 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
Where were the people getting clean water from before the French company began offering it at a price? Unfortunately it does cost money to purify water. When the resource is scarce how do you make it go as far as possible other than to charge for it so people don't waste it?
It was state-owned.

Here's an article with more detail, if you're interested.

Quote:
It would be nice if drinkable water was free, but it isn't and I have no solution for that. We could say that government should do it, and where I live government does do it, but government then needs to spend money to do it and this comes from the citizens just the same as it does under a private company supplying the water.

No matter how you slice it, it takes money.
Sure, it takes money. But water is, first, common property. While this wasn't the case in Soweto specifically, many of these agreements actually sell water rights to private concerns. Like the water that comes out of the sky. Tell me where you draw the line between charging for water itself and charging people for the air they breathe.

Second, clean water is not a luxury good. It's not optional. When private interests take over necessary goods and services, they almost without fail end up gouging consumers. And public water systems are not necessarily free, either.

Publicly run utilities in poverty stricken areas do tend to be substandard, but privatization is not the answer. Consistently, privatized water schemes have ended up raising water prices to the point that the poor can't afford what they need just to live.
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Old 08-27-2004, 02:40 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by viscousmemories
Of course. But I think the idea is that in a democracy the government will adjust the prices according to the interests of the contituency (which means reasonable cost and availablity are going to be concerns) whereas a private company (and in this case I think we're talking a monopoly) is only going to be interested in getting the most money for the least water, with no regard for the availability to anyone who can't pay the high cost.
I agree, but we aren't talking about democratic nations, we are talking about hopelessly corrupt and inefficent, dictator style nations. So, the first problem is getting a decent government for those nations. Given the US efforts at this in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere I would say the track record isn't all that good.
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Old 08-27-2004, 03:03 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by lisarea
It was state-owned.

Here's an article with more detail, if you're interested.
Thanks, I did read the article and it seems that when the government owned the treatment plants they were run down and continuing to deteriorate, and 50% of the supply was lost to leakage and illegal taps. Further the billing infrastructure was such that they couldn't even bill many of the users. So the idea seems to be to get private companies to improve the infrastructure.

Well, no private company is going to do it unless they see a profit potential, that's a given.

So, we have a government that can't afford to do it and a private company that believes they can afford to do it, but the prices will be beyond what the poorest will be able to afford.

What we have here is a problem with no clear solution that I can see. Usually if the private sector greed causes too many problems we say lets either turn it over to government or at least slap a lot of regulations on private enterprise. If government screws things up we say privatize. It doesn't appear either solution is going to usher in any utopia.

Quote:
Sure, it takes money. But water is, first, common property. While this wasn't the case in Soweto specifically, many of these agreements actually sell water rights to private concerns. Like the water that comes out of the sky. Tell me where you draw the line between charging for water itself and charging people for the air they breathe.
If rain water was being charged for or people were forbidden to collect the rain water on their property then I agree this is just flat out wrong. Keep in mind though we are talking about the continent where at least one nation's government thinks it's a good idea to take the property of whites and give it to blacks. There is some seriously screwed up nonsense going on with some of these governments which is problem #1.

Quote:
Second, clean water is not a luxury good. It's not optional. When private interests take over necessary goods and services, they almost without fail end up gouging consumers. And public water systems are not necessarily free, either.
Clean water *is* a luxury good whether we like the fact or not. Clean, drinkable water is extremely scarce. To take naturally occuring water and ensure it is safe for consumption requires treating and testing. It requires building pipelines, it requires maintenance. It requires money. And money is what makes clean water a luxury good. If you have no money you can't afford it. In developed nations we can consider clean water a right because we can afford to have that view. This isn't the case in third world nations. I am not saying I like this fact, I am simply asserting that it is factual.

Quote:
Publicly run utilities in poverty stricken areas do tend to be substandard, but privatization is not the answer. Consistently, privatized water schemes have ended up raising water prices to the point that the poor can't afford what they need just to live.
Well I don't disagree that some are going to be excluded on the basis of price. I have no solution because apparently the public system was already losing 50% of it's water and for the water that wasn't being lost they had trouble billing people for it. From the article you linked to the situation wasn't improving, it was continuing to deteriorate. So, the private company may well end up excluding some due to the need to be profitable, but it sounded like the public system was already failing people. Which flavor of bad do you prefer?

I think much of this is silliness as well. As Roland pointed out a simple coffee filter can greatly reduce the contaminants in the water and last time I checked boiling water also killed many bacteria and virii. Granted, I would rather turn on the tap and get potable water, but if I lived in a developing nation I don't think I would view piped in potable water as anything but a luxury. A luxury that, at present, these nations don't seem able to afford.

I think it preferable to have a private company come in, make major investments in the infrastructure, get the system profitable (and thus self sustaining) and then worry about getting the distribution pushed out as far and wide as possible. To be worrying about the distribution at this point would just be counterproductive in my opinion.

Not pleasant, but I am afraid it's just how it is.
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Old 08-27-2004, 03:24 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
Well I don't disagree that some are going to be excluded on the basis of price. I have no solution because apparently the public system was already losing 50% of it's water and for the water that wasn't being lost they had trouble billing people for it. From the article you linked to the situation wasn't improving, it was continuing to deteriorate. So, the private company may well end up excluding some due to the need to be profitable, but it sounded like the public system was already failing people. Which flavor of bad do you prefer?
True, they were losing half the water to leakage and illegal tie-ins and the system definitely didn't seem to be on the mend. But I'm inclined to believe this claim in the article:

Quote:
Private water, telecommunications and electricity companies tend to focus on efficiency in collecting tariffs, but not on improving service.
If true, then privatization will do little to remedy any of those ailments.

Quote:
I think it preferable to have a private company come in, make major investments in the infrastructure, get the system profitable (and thus self sustaining) and then worry about getting the distribution pushed out as far and wide as possible. To be worrying about the distribution at this point would just be counterproductive in my opinion.
If what I said above is true, why should they invest a ton of money in infrastructure and concern themselves with pushing distribution out? Just put band-aids on the holes and bump up the prices to the people with money.

But to me this was the most important point of the article:

Quote:
People in affected communities don't have a voice in how or if they want their services privatized. People in impoverished countries want efficient service. In some, privatization may be the way to go. They need to be allowed to choose if it is appropriate for them.
These countries should have the right to choose for themselves, not be forced into a one-size-fits-all plan drafted by the World Bank.
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Old 08-27-2004, 03:48 AM
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Quote:
True, they were losing half the water to leakage and illegal tie-ins and the system definitely didn't seem to be on the mend. But I'm inclined to believe this claim in the article:

Quote:
Private water, telecommunications and electricity companies tend to focus on efficiency in collecting tariffs, but not on improving service.
If true, then privatization will do little to remedy any of those ailments.
Well, working for a telecommunications company I tend to agree that this is the case for awhile. The very first thing the company is going to want to do is figure out how to bill people for the water. After that they are going to look for growth and the only way to grow is to build out the infrastructure so they can have more customers. Getting the product to the poorest areas isn't going to happen though. There is no sense in getting it there if it isn't profitable from a for profit perspective.

Quote:
If what I said above is true, why should they invest a ton of money in infrastructure and concern themselves with pushing distribution out? Just put band-aids on the holes and bump up the prices to the people with money.
I agree. In order to get the stuff fixed up and delivered to the people who can't afford it will require governmental action. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that the political will exists. As I see it the problem isn't with private enterprise here, it is with government. The private company is going to behave in an entirely predicable manner, looking to provide a product or service in exchange for a profit. The government is unlikely to behave in a predicable manner and ensure that this company using a natural resource, improving it and then selling it also distributes it to those who need it to sustain life, but can't afford it. The idea would be to charge those who can afford it a bit more to subsidize those who need it, but can't afford it. This is something a government will need to do.

Quote:
But to me this was the most important point of the article:
Quote:
People in affected communities don't have a voice in how or if they want their services privatized. People in impoverished countries want efficient service. In some, privatization may be the way to go. They need to be allowed to choose if it is appropriate for them.

These countries should have the right to choose for themselves, not be forced into a one-size-fits-all plan drafted by the World Bank.
I would like to agree, but at the same time I believe beggars cannot afford to be choosers. If people have the means to produce potable water for themselves then they should do so. If they don't have the means then they need to accept the solutions of others warts and all. How can it be any other way? It would be nice if it were different, but it isn't. I fail to see how the average person in an impoverished nation is in any way, shape or form qualified to make a decision about sustainable, efficient water purification and delivery. I live in what is said to be the wealthiest nation in the world and I don't claim to be qualified to make those decisions. Some decisions should never be left to "the people" because "the people" don't have a clue what is best. Just the way it is.

As for the World bank, maybe I am just ignorant, but it seems to me that a nation went to them asking for something. Terms were drawn up and the government agreed to them. This generally is considered as "the people" via their elected representatives as speaking. Of course that's often just a silly platitude and in case of dictatorships it's even worse, but again, reality is reality.

Water isn't the problem, it's really bad government and a population that doesn't seem to know their head from a hole in the ground which probably stems from the really bad government.

I have no solution, but don't see private investment as something to be discouraged. It isn't going to be perfect, but private investment is about the only investment these nations are ever going to see.
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Old 08-27-2004, 05:16 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

I know this is an oversimplification and not even related to the OP, but it illustrates one point, unregulated private commerce doesn't necessarily lead to more efficient service (which would imply lower costs as well). On the left, unregulated private telecommunications and electricity. On the right, monopolistic regulated power and telephone services.


Perhaps a regulated private monopoly, like Ma Bell was, is the answer to building the best system. Or not. I don't know. I've always thought it was interesting in the early days of telephone when Company A wanted to talk to Company B and C, a private company would run a telephone like from Company A to Company B and another to Company C and so on until it turned into the mess you see illustrated on the left. I remain unconvinced that privatization is necessarily better than a government monopoly.
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Old 08-27-2004, 05:30 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by warrenly
I know this is an oversimplification and not even related to the OP, but it illustrates one point, unregulated private commerce doesn't necessarily lead to more efficient service (which would imply lower costs as well). On the left, unregulated private telecommunications and electricity. On the right, monopolistic regulated power and telephone services.


Perhaps a regulated private monopoly, like Ma Bell was, is the answer to building the best system. Or not. I don't know. I've always thought it was interesting in the early days of telephone when Company A wanted to talk to Company B and C, a private company would run a telephone like from Company A to Company B and another to Company C and so on until it turned into the mess you see illustrated on the left. I remain unconvinced that privatization is necessarily better than a government monopoly.
While the illustration does make a point, it does so at the cost of realism. I don't believe there was ever a time when there were so many above ground wires that things looked the way the drawing depicts. I note that the highly wired example is a drawing and the other example appears to be a photograph of an actual place/time.

Technology has changed this scene forever. Switching technology made the need to run wires from a to b and from a to c obsolete rather quickly and today things are buried rather than above ground. The neighborhood I live in has no above ground wiring of any kind. As a general rule private enterprise is more concerned with technological advances which reduce costs than government is.

Back to the OP, I have no problem with government providing potable water to people at cost. I think that since water is a public resource rather than a private one, government should provide it or at least regulate it such that the interests of all the people are served. In the case of Africa and the article Lisarea linked to it was clear that government was incapable of doing that job.
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Old 08-27-2004, 06:00 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
While the illustration does make a point, it does so at the cost of realism. I don't believe there was ever a time when there were so many above ground wires that things looked the way the drawing depicts. I note that the highly wired example is a drawing and the other example appears to be a photograph of an actual place/time.
Actually, I have seen actual photos in museums, Brooklyn's Transit Authority Museum for one and in Salt Lake City for another, that pretty much confirm the haphazard conflagration that was telephone and electrical service prior to 1900 as illustrated in the above post. It was that bad. Of course, they may have picked the worst places on purpose.
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Old 08-27-2004, 06:01 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
While the illustration does make a point, it does so at the cost of realism. I don't believe there was ever a time when there were so many above ground wires that things looked the way the drawing depicts. I note that the highly wired example is a drawing and the other example appears to be a photograph of an actual place/time.

Technology has changed this scene forever. Switching technology made the need to run wires from a to b and from a to c obsolete rather quickly and today things are buried rather than above ground. The neighborhood I live in has no above ground wiring of any kind. As a general rule private enterprise is more concerned with technological advances which reduce costs than government is.
It must be nice where you live. In my middle-class neighborhood, the number of overhead wires have proliferated in the past 10 years...hey...isn't that about the same amount of time that "deregulation" has been a national agenda item? It used to be we had two or three wires, now there's at least four times as many wires...I'm not sure what they are, but the cable companies didn't help.

And putting things underground is beaucoup expensivo compared to using already existant utility poles, even taking into consideration the licensing costs for using them. The only time anything gets put underground around here is if there's a sizeable public subsidy to do so. Or, in the case of new construction, where the local government requires it.

And I'm not impressed about all the claims about "technological progress"...it seems that with every boon comes a whole new set of banes, whether they "reduce costs" or not. Plus, often there are a whole new set of externalities which private enterprise then sloughs off onto others, including governments, to take care of.

Burn on, big river, burn on.

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Old 08-27-2004, 06:08 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by warrenly
Actually, I have seen actual photos in museums, Brooklyn's Transit Authority Museum for one and in Salt Lake City for another, that pretty much confirm the haphazard conflagration that was telephone and electrical service prior to 1900 as illustrated in the above post. It was that bad. Of course, they may have picked the worst places on purpose.
I can't argue this as I am ignorant of what you are speaking of. I concede that it is entirely possible.
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Old 08-27-2004, 06:11 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Salt Lake City, circa 1890:
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Old 08-27-2004, 06:32 AM
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Default Re: More depressing than the stolen Scream...

Quote:
Originally Posted by godfry n. glad
It must be nice where you live. In my middle-class neighborhood, the number of overhead wires have proliferated in the past 10 years...hey...isn't that about the same amount of time that "deregulation" has been a national agenda item? It used to be we had two or three wires, now there's at least four times as many wires...I'm not sure what they are, but the cable companies didn't help.
I live in a middle class neighborhood as well, but it is a new subdivision so everything is buried. On the topic of telecommunications deregulation though I don't think the number of wires you see has anything to do with it. Until just this year when a federal court ruled portions of the Telecommunications Act unconstitutional the company I work for (SBC) was forced to lease it's lines and equipment to competitors at government determined rates which were below wholesale cost. This regulation cost both you and I money most likely.

Here is why. Cable companies which weren't regulated in the same way rolled out broadband services and in some markets rolled out telephone communications over the coax cables. Cable companies generally do enjoy monopolies in that most areas get only one choice of cable providers whereas most areas have more than one choice in terms of telephony providers. This is because cable companies do not have to lease their lines or equipment at any price to anyone.

As a result broadband services had no real competition to reduce price while improving reliability. DSL lagged far behind cable in terms of performance and availability as a result. SBC proposed to spend 6 billion on getting copper and fiber optics pushed into every home in the nation (within it's states of operation anyway), but quickly decided against it because it was a money loser. Any technology we deployed we would lose money to our competition which could undercut our prices because they had government mandated prices lower than we could offer the service at. (Curiously though many of the lessors of our equipment charged exhorbitant rates as long as we didn't compete with them.)

What most people don't realize is that DSL has far greater bandwidth capacity than cable. As soon as the Bush admin indicated they wouldn't pursue an appeal to the federal court ruling the telecommunications act unconstitutional we started pouring investment capital into DSL.

As a result the early markets are enjoying 6mb speeds over copper wires and the town next to mine is getting fiber optics to every new home. Additionally we are rolling out cable type programming over phone lines which will only serve to reduce cable and satellite prices.

The telecommunications act was intended to increase competition. What it actually did was reduce it.

Quote:
And putting things underground is beaucoup expensivo compared to using already existant utility poles, even taking into consideration the licensing costs for using them. The only time anything gets put underground around here is if there's a sizeable public subsidy to do so. Or, in the case of new construction, where the local government requires it.
When repair costs are factored in it is preferable to bury the cables. To do so in established areas would be cost prohibitive, but in newly developed areas it is cost efficient to bury the wires. Where I live I rarely experience loss of phone service or electrical service and when I do it's because there are portions of the network that feed my neighborhood which are above ground.

The crews which get called out at 3am during a storm to restore service are all union workers that get overtime. Repair/maintenance costs are huge and well worth avoiding.

Quote:
And I'm not impressed about all the claims about "technological progress"...it seems that with every boon comes a whole new set of banes, whether they "reduce costs" or not. Plus, often there are a whole new set of externalities which private enterprise then sloughs off onto others, including governments, to take care of.

Burn on, big river, burn on.

godfry
I don't disagree as it concerns externalities, but I will say that externalities are only possible with government permissiveness and laws preventing people from taking the producers of the externalities to court for fair compensation..
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