Packet Rat: Quel odeur! The Rat smells, well, a rat

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

'First we ate 'freedom fries,' ' the Rat growled. 'Now we've got congressional heartburn.'

The whiskered one tries not to venture into politics very often, given that he has to work with whatever meatheads the citizenry sees fit to inflict upon him. He also has tried his best not to get too worked up over the Iraqi war and to suffer lightly whatever unfunded, cockamamie mandates get handed down from the legislative branch.

But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) went too far.

Denouncing the Global System for Mobile Communications standard as 'French,' Issa last month wrote to the Defense Department and the Agency for International Development, demanding that they give preference to Code Division Multiple Access wireless technology from Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego when rebuilding Iraq's communications infrastructure.

The plan had been to use GSM, already the standard in most neighboring nations that have cellular networks. Iraq is one of a handful of countries without a major cell phone network (others being, ironically, Afghanistan and North Korea'two places that could get U.S. military-sponsored cellular communications networks, too).

'If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment would be manufactured in France, Germany and elsewhere in western and northern Europe,' Issa wrote to Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and AID administrator Wendy Chamberlain. 'Royalties paid on the technology would flow to French and European sources, not U.S. patent holders. We urge you to use American-developed CDMA cell phone technology.'

It's been a while since anyone has so boldly used a random bit of nationalistic chauvinism to further political ambitions. Issa's congressional Web site even plays up the anti-French mood on Capitol Hill by labeling his message to constituents, 'Parlez-vous Francais?'

The Rat smells a moldy baguette. Never mind that a CDMA network would be incompatible with the networks of nearly every country bordering Iraq. Never mind that American carriers such as AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless use GSM in the states and could bid on an Iraqi network. Never mind that Qualcomm patented its technology based on knowledge gained from making CDMA chips for the defense market.

The wirebiter punched up a map of Issa's home district, just north of San Diego. According to OpenSecrets.org, Qualcomm was Issa's sixth-largest corporate contributor for his 2002 re-election campaign. Issa also helped found and serves on the board of Directed Electronics Inc., which developed CDMA-based telematics devices under an agreement with Wingcast, a joint venture of Ford Motor Co. and Qualcomm.

'Mon dieu,' the Rat cried, 'what a bowl of bouillabaisse. Maybe Issa isn't such a dumb congresscritter after all. The French have a word for it, I'm sure.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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