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A dumb idea at exactly the wrong time

Apr 07, 20034 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

Few political pronouncements are more easily ignored than one from a congressman making the case for goods or services sold by a company in his or her district.

Contrary to popular suspicion, it’s not even necessary for the provider of such goods and services to wave a campaign contribution under the lawmaker’s nose to assure a full-throated defense of the homegrown product – although such tributes are common and highly recommended. No, going to bat for hometown employers – even if they make buggy whips; even if they make lousy buggy whips – is a time-honored political tradition along the lines of cutting ribbons and kissing babies. It’s a big part of what gets our public servants into office and keeps them there until we can’t stand to hear them yap for one more blessed minute.

So on that score it’s easy to understand – and quickly brush aside – the recent letter that U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Qualcomm) directed to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who needs such distractions these days like our soldiers need more sand in their boots. As you might have read, Issa and 30 cosigning lawmakers are urging Rumsfeld to pause from his battle strategizing for a moment and reverse an Army plan to build a wireless network in postwar Iraq based on GSM technology. GSM is the widely accepted standard throughout most of the world, including the Middle East. Instead, these lawmakers want to see that network based on CDMA, which has been the technology of choice by some large carriers here in the States.

More to the point – at least Rep. Issa’s point – is that CDMA technology is bread and butter to Qualcomm, which is located in San Diego. . . which is the heart of Issa’s district. The lawmaker also has hitched his cause to the France-bashing bandwagon that has flattened even the lowly French fry: It seems the ancestry of today’s GSM technology can be traced, in part, to that country.

“We’re going to be in a position where we are spending U.S. taxpayer dollars to set up a communications system for the Iraqi people,” Issa told the Associated Press. “It seems logical to give a preference to U.S. companies and U.S. jobs.”

Yes, it’s logical, as long as you’re a politician whose grasp of the big picture extends as far as the San Diego city limits.

It should make no sense at all to anyone else. Issa’s plea is tantamount to demanding that U.S. companies get first dibs on selling wool hats and mittens to the Iraqis. Not exactly a good fit.

Ever since Issa opened this can of worms, honest-to-goodness experts on wireless technology have painstakingly pointed out to the fellow that GSM makes sense for Iraq, if for no other reason than it’s dominant in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Newly liberated Iraqis no doubt will want to do a bit of roaming.

As for GSM being a “foreign” technology – whatever that means – it has been noted that a significant number of U.S. companies have skin in the GSM game, including AT&T Wireless, Cingular and T-Mobile, which have opted for a GSM-based technology (GPRS) in their next-generation networks.

None of which is what’s worst about Issa’s ill-conceived, ill-timed offensive.

That would be the impression it creates not only in Iraq but the rest of the world. At a time when the Bush administration and our military are striving to present this war as a liberation effort – with limited success – the last thing they need is for a band of U.S. politicians to show themselves as first and foremost profiteers.

Why it’s nothing less than unpatriotic.

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