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A couple of slam-dunks

Jul 05, 20044 mins
Network SecurityVerizon

Wireless telephone directories are going to happen whether wireless customers like the idea or not. So, too, will hands-free-only become the law of the land – everywhere – for operation of a telephone while driving, the preferences of motormouths be damned.

Bellyache all you want, but bellyaching will do no good. The operative questions are when and how, not if.

Let’s start with the directories.

“Customers view their cell phones as one place where they have control,” Verizon CEO Denny Strigl told an audience last month at The Yankee Group’s 2004 Wireless Leadership Summit. “Why tear down the wall of privacy that is unique? We spent decades building that wall.”

Strigl knows full well why, even if he’s decided that his company stands to benefit in the short run from taking a hard-line stand against such directories. That wall is coming down because there’s an enormous pile of money on the other side. It’s coming down because millions of consumers and businesses are ditching their land lines altogether in favor of wireless – and they are not going to crouch behind a wall of anonymity forever.

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association has raised hackles by promising to develop a wireless directory by year-end. CTIA has sworn on a stack of phone books that it will not have anything to do with listing the numbers of those who would rather remain walled off, nor will it countenance any attempt to charge a fee for the privilege of remaining unlisted (much as Strigl’s company charges me a few bucks a month to keep my landline number private).

Critics scoff at both assurances – as well they might – but their skepticism will not keep wireless directories at bay. The critics’ best-case scenario is meaningful federal regulation and the possibility that market forces will keep in check the more aggressive commercial instincts of directory providers.

As for people who enjoy driving with a phone to one ear and their eyes who knows where, they have no hope whatsoever. New Jersey and Washington, D.C., last week joined New York in outlawing the practice.

This week I heard a radio DJ complaining about the possibility of it happening here in Massachusetts, where legislation is winding its way through the state house. The fellow said he’s quite confident of his ability to hold a telephone and the wheel simultaneously. He is not alone.

Nor will he be alone in his disappointment. Reason will prevail on this issue.

More about Meetup

Last week we noted a report from Meetup about the number of in-person forums organized through its Web site in support of the presidential contenders. On just one day there were 43 local meetings organized nationwide by backers of President Bush, and 617 for his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry.

While this might be seen as encouraging news for Kerry, the same cannot be said for Meetup, whose business prospects are not helped if the company gets pegged as primarily a liberal bastion. I asked Meetup about this but the company’s reply came too late for last week’s column. Here’s what they said:

“We’re doing what we can to ensure Meetup isn’t construed as serving one side more than the other . . . but it’s really been the people from the bottom up who are engaging in meetups that are shaping the perceptions,” says spokesman Myles Weissleder. “The fact remains, more liberals choose to meetup with their like-minded neighbors than conservatives.”

“Another false perception: Meetup serves the young, digerati. In reality, there are more people over the age of 40 than under who use the service. A surprise even for us,” he says.

This column has always served digerati young and old. The address is