Packet Rat: The Rat invests in new telecom fiber: twine

Micheal Bechetti

The youngest ratling has put the whole burrow on a new schedule. She now likes to rise at 4 a.m. to update her home page'and to do so, she has to wake up her parents to get her out of the crib.

So it has turned into a 'Sum of All Fears' kind of month for the Rat.

High-tech vendors were absorbing each other right and left. The downturn had already given his pelt a few more gray hairs, and the bust in the telecom sector was giving him a serious headache. Both Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. proved the wisdom of the Rat's mattress-stuffing investment plan. But he never expected the crisis to come home to roost in his cubicle until he saw what was happening to his agency's telecommunications carriers.

With the General Services Administration weighing the viability of Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver as a continued service provider because of possible criminal charges, and WorldCom laying off thousands after its multibillion-dollar slip of the ledger, things were not looking too rosy for federal telecom contracts. In view of GSA rules requiring all vendors to be reviewed for financial soundness, government handsets could soon be delivering dead air instead of a dial tone.

'I miss irrational exuberance,' whined the cyberrodent as he downloaded the morning newspaper to his printer.

Depending on how things broke, the whiskered one figured he could string lengths of twine between buildings with tin cans to keep voice traffic going'and rely on smoke signals for data.

Or maybe, just maybe, he could run new wires himself. 'Honey, this may be the time to look into those metropolitan area wireless network stocks again,' he told Mrs. Rat as he shuffled to the kitchen in search of caffeine.

Even Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell picked up on the sense of impending doom and suggested the commission might let a Baby Bell acquire WorldCom. Powell was quoted in the news as saying he would weigh the duress factor of any deal brought before him.

'Great,' the Rat groused. 'A new rule of business etiquette: Duress for success. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to return to a phone monopoly. Simplicity has its benefits.'

'Any fiber as long as it's dark, eh?' his wife asked with a tinge of skepticism. 'Where's the fun in no-compete contracts? Don't you remember California's deal with Oracle Corp.?'

'Now, don't get me wrong, dear,' the Rat replied. 'I'm as excited about the prospect of telecom mergers as I am about airline pilots packing guns. Some of the stupidest ideas ever conceived were born out of duress'like the tie during the All-Star Game. But I do think a well-regulated phone monopoly might work. As long as the calls go through and the packet loss stays low, I mean.'

'Just like Mussolini made the trains run on time?' his wife responded.

'This is all George Gilder's fault,' the Rat replied weakly as he filled his cup. 'Those darned futurists always screw things up'and him, promising a telecosmic era! At least he went broke along with everyone else.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].

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