I often work on my articles at home, and tonight, I was watching the YouTube video presented below. My wife, from across the room, was listening out of one ear.
What she heard seemed ridiculous. It seemed like a comedy skit. A thin, balding, large-eared man -- who looked very much like the sort of comic you'd see on a late night stand-up comedy show -- was talking about broadband in America.
He was very forceful, and the phrase that stood out was (and yes, sadly, I am quoting):
I understand there are two kids in Finland selling games about angry birds. If we are going to win the future, we have to dominate this space.
It sounded, for all the world, like this comedian was saying that America's strategy was to out-compete on bird anger vs. every other nation.
Sadly, the man is not a comedian. His name is Austan Goolsbee. Dr. Goolsbee is President Obama's Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He got his Ph.D. in economics from MIT, was a Sloan Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar, and is on leave from his previous gig as an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
Dr. Goolsbee was named one of six "Gurus of the Future" by the Financial Times, and here he is, appearing to say that to "win the future," America has to dominate in Angry Birds sales.
I mock, but only because Professor Goolsbee's presentation is so mockworthy. What you're actually witnessing is a series called White House White Board and they're supposed to be fireside chats for the modern era.
Goolsbee's presentation is of great importance, because what he's trying to point out is that (a) America is far behind when it comes to the quality of our wireless networks, and (b) the the President's wireless initiative is supposed to help us "up our game."
I'm conflicted on how to report this. First, the material is so incomprehensibly mockworthy that I can barely contain myself. I've long had a weakness, where I'm willing to give into my sense of humor rather than err on the side of common sense.
Everything about this whiteboard pitch, from the man's name to his unfortunate conflating of winning the future and Angry Birds, is completely amusing.
The topic, on the other hand, is not. There is a deep and worrisome truth with regard to America's position when it comes to universal wireless Internet penetration.
We have exceptional technology. Verizon's 4G performance is breathtaking. Unfortunately, so is the company's billing strategy. Because America's leaders have shown an unfortunate willingness to sell net neutrality down the river to the advantage of wireless carriers, useful 4G wireless broadband will be out of reach to most Americans.
Verizon and other wireless carriers are capping the amount of broadband 4G wireless consumers can have. A few movies, a bunch of YouTube videos, a few days of active use and those caps will be blasted through by most users -- and the overage charges are so draconian that wireless 4G will effectively become impractical for most of us.
I recently watched a Top Gear episode, where Jeremy Clarkson drove a truly astounding Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren across England. The car, which costs nearly half a million dollars, has the ability to drive at over 200 miles per hour. The gotcha: at that speed, the car can only hold enough gas to drive for 19 minutes.
In that, the McLaren is very much like America's 4G broadband -- it can go very, very fast, is very, very expensive, but can't last very long without running out of gas.
And it's also here that Dr. Goolsbee's presentation ceases to be funny. Because while he's up there making jokes about Angry Birds, Congress and the Obama administration aren't winning the future. Instead, they're conceding the future of our wireless broadband infrastructure to the carriers and their penny-wise, pound-foolish pricing structures.
Unless both the Democrats and the Republicans wise up and take a stand defending net neutrality, we'll be like those birds, flying high on wireless broadband, only to crash to Earth with little more than an angry squeal.
To add insult to injury, after reading my article, my wife opened up her iPad and happily started another Angry Birds level. I hate that game! What do you think? TalkBack below.