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What we have here is an inability to communicate

By October 26, 2005katrina

I had to redial several times to get through, but finally I reached my friend Vincent.  We both had cellphones with 504-based area codes.  Neither one of us expects reliable phone communications so it’s not even something we pay much attention to.

And so it goes in the City of New Orleans, a place where even marginal infrastructure is considered a gift from the Gods.  Today I can place cellphone calls to Vincent with a 70% success rate.  Tomorrow I might not be able to call him at all.  At that point I’d have to decide if communication is imperative.  If so, I’d use text messaging.

Emergency 911 services are imperative, but unfortunately they are only semi-operational.  So, if your house is broken into and you think the thieves are still inside don’t bother calling 911, or don’t expect them to send anyone to help.  Unless, there are bodies inside (one of which can be yours).  Then you can ask for help, if you can get through that is.

The internet is an important facet of modern life, and I’m glad to say that my home is one of the few that has high-speed internet (Cox is telling those who don’t have it that they won’t get it until January of 2006). I have a Wi-Fi set-up for my internet, and it reaches to the front and back of my house. So pretty much anyone who wants to can use it.  My friends often come by and sit in the backyard or on the front porch.  Some of these cyber-junkies are friends of friends.

I wouldn’t think of making my Wi-Fi network secure.  Too many people need it.

There are a few public places in the city that have Wi-Fi, but not enough to meet the strong demand.  CC’s Coffee shop on Magazine and Jefferson isn’t even open but somehow their Wi-Fi is working.  So people with laptops are huddled on the sidewalk outside, getting their internet fix.  That says a lot about how much craving there is for connectivity.

A friend of mine who works for a high-tech company that lets their employees work ‘virtually’ from anywhere came back to New Orleans recently.  But her house doesn’t have landline phone service yet and her cellphone doesn’t work reliably.  She has to borrow internet connections to work online, which is what her job requires most of the time.  So what’s the effect of this poor communications system?  Well, her company has told her to find a way to get reliable phone and internet connections in three days or move to a different city.

I don’t want to complain about life in New Orleans.  I love this city and I realize that there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be fixed.  But communications are pretty important.  If you want people to come back and live in this city then there has to be a reliable communications system.  Isn’t that sort of obvious?

A state-of-the-art levee system will take years to build and will cost billions.  How long should it take to get basic phone and internet service up and running?   And how long much longer would it take to get a state-of-the-art communications system up and running?  It wouldn’t seem to take all that long, especially if you get leading tech companies to spearhead the project as part of a ‘we helped New Orleans’ publicity campaign.  And it certainly won’t cost billions of dollars to build.

Frankly, if I were a politician I’d find a way to pipe free Wi-Fi into key parts of the city and then start a marketing campaign to get bright young people (e.g. ‘tech-savvy’ people with jobs that allow them to live anywhere they choose) to come live here.  I would think this would dovetail nicely with our recent effort to attract more work from the film industry.  Lots of great films have been made in New Orleans.  Any place can put up a casino, but not too many places have the right pastiche of scenery, music and food that the would make the film industry come here. 

The world is increasingly filled with creative, passionate people –most of whom are looking for a unique and interesting place to live and work.  Katrina did not destroy our unique atmosphere.  So, what we need to do is focus on building the infrastructure needed to attract those kinds of people.  A lot of them used to live here and just need to know that things are really going to be better.  If we can’t convince those people to live here then who can we convince?  Tourists?  Gamblers?

The goal is to get people to come live here, right?  Not just visit.  So if we are going to convince people to come live here we need to get the infrastructure up and running.  We need to prioritize according to what’s most important and what’s easiest to set up quickly.

So, I ask again: how hard is it to get the cellphones to work better and to make the internet more widely available?  And is anyone really working on this problem? [Strange humming noise] Hello, hello?  Can you still hear me?


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One Comment

  • billy boy says:

    i have to say i am so torn as to whether i will return to new orleans. leaving was like a divorce that you were thinking about but all of the sudden it just happened. while i love the city, i hate the political environment. how glaring to problems have to be before a solution is found? i find it ironic that the levees broke in new orleans because it is analogous to how many other breaks we have. whether the problem is the school board, the price of insurance due to fraud and the uninsured, the awful streets, crime, the sewage and water board, the drug problem, the projects, the taxes on everything… you name it. there are so many things that are broken in the city and state. i am so angry that something so wonderful beautiful can also be allowed to turn so ugly.

    i know the problem goes back for years and years and is centered around people turning their back on the problem. while i would like to return to “make a difference”, i don’t know how much a difference one person will make. maybe nagin is not so bad ( but even so, there are problems on the state level. the state elected blanco over bobby jindal. i know hindsight is 20/20 but even in the election process, when asked about how she would handle problems… she never had a plan other than she would put together a commission to study the problem and present her with the best options. Bobby Jindal, on the other hand, had a precise answer as to how he would deal with the problem. his answers were well thought and very insightful. it is sad to me that he did not win elected office. that saddens me and scares me that people are so blind. how in the world have we wound up with so many AWFUL leaders… mike foster, edwin edwards, and even buddy “leader without an army” roemer. this is so sad. how did the state ever get to the point of having a governors race between a “crook” and a known klan wizard? even now we have “our leaders” in washington asking for a ludicrous $250 billion making us yet another laughing stock.

    all of that said, i really do hope that things can change. if louisiana is going to reverse it’s course and begin to grow, the time is now. until then… i am here in austin texas, missing new orleans.

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