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Lowering the bar

When mobile-phone carriers advertise to consumers or lobby policymakers, they speak unabashedly in the most glowing terms about their services and products. Sometimes they go overboard and get their wrists slapped by advertising watchdogs, or worse get hit with class-action lawsuits. Politicians are no different, promising the world to voters and sometimes paying consequences later due to their reach exceeding their grasp.
There are moments, though, when circumstances dictate an understated approach. Just ask the wireless industry and President-elect Barack Obama, both of which have a date with destiny on Jan. 20.
Obama, who rode a wave of economic and anti-war angst to the White House and perpetually promised change during the presidential campaign, finds himself in a bit of a bind insofar as inheriting the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and a military situation in an Iraq chock full of U.S. troops and uncertainty. All things considered, change of any significance – including expanding broadband access – is realistically unlikely anytime soon. About the only alternative for the time being is to tamp down expectations, which Obama has begun to do.
Likewise, the wireless industry, faced with the prospect of a record crowd of between 4 million and 5 million at the presidential inauguration, is trying to head off a potential public-relations nightmare by letting consumers know in advance that cellphone service probably will not be up to par on Jan. 20.
“The wireless industry is preparing for record traffic during the inauguration, and companies are undertaking extraordinary efforts to expand their networks’ capacities,” said Steve Largent, president of trade group CTIA. “But it’s important for the public to understand that there will likely be some delays. Just as restaurants, trains and highways have maximum capacity limits, wireless networks have also been built to meet the needs of a large, but limited amount of people.” Largent recommended tips such as texting instead of talking and saving photos taken on cellphones instead of sending the bandwidth-hogging images.
CTIA’s cautionary alert is a great strategy, but might not be enough to assuage inauguration attendees whose festive mood could swiftly turn sour if there’s a wireless meltdown in the nation’s capital. If such a scenario comes to pass, wireless executives will need Largent-Hall-of Fame-like moves to avoid airborne shoes thrown in their direction.


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