Suppose you own a Dell computer, and you decide to replace it with a Sony. You don’t have to get the permission of your Internet service provider to do so, or even tell the provider about it. You can just pack up the old machine and set up the new one. . .
This is the way digital capitalism should work, and, in the case of the mass-market personal-computer industry, and the modern Internet, it has created one of the greatest technological revolutions in human history, as well as one of the greatest spurts of wealth creation and of consumer empowerment.
So, it’s intolerable that the same country that produced all this has trapped its citizens in a backward, stifling system when it comes to the next great technology platform, the cellphone.
A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.
That’s why I refer to the big cellphone carriers as the “Soviet ministries.” Like the old bureaucracies of communism, they sit athwart the market, breaking the link between the producers of goods and services and the people who use them.
To some extent, they try to replace the market system, and, like the real Soviet ministries, they are a lousy substitute. They decide what phones can be used on their networks and what software and services can be offered on those phones. They require the hardware and software makers to tailor their products to meet the carriers’ specifications, not just so they work properly on the network, but so they promote the carriers’ brands and their various add-on services.
Now, the tie-in to PACS is obvious, and this really parallels the argument I presented in my older post, “Euros, Assumptions, and Greek Islands,” wherein I bemoaned the fact that one cannot place an interface from Company A on Company B’s archive.
We’ve been through this before in the U.S., though many younger readers may not recall it.
Up until the 1970s, when the federal government intervened, you weren’t allowed to buy your own landline phone, and companies weren’t able to innovate, on price or features, in making and selling phones to the public. All Americans were forced to rent clumsy phones made by a subsidiary of the monopoly phone company, AT&T, which claimed that, unless it controlled what was connected to its network, the network might suffer.
Well, the government pried that market open, and the wired phone network not only didn’t collapse, it became more useful and versatile, allowing, among other things, cheap connections to online data services.
I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.
And the same for PACS.