Why approve the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger? Science!

How dare California tie Comcast merger approval to rural broadband coverage! Lucky for the ISPs, researchers may have cleared the last hurdle

Credit: Craig Anderson via Flickr

What exactly is a “researcher”? Who are these people, and how can I become one of them? The job seems easier than my current occupation, and their blind dates probably don't look crestfallen when the old employment question comes up. Given that my brain stem threatens to turn into an origami place mat upon reading most research studies, I’m wondering how hard it might be to get in on this gig.

Take, for example, the crew of dedicated statistical sleuths working for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Their recent traffic safety survey showed the following:

  • The number of drivers operating vehicles “under the influence” is on the rise
  • The number of drivers operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol is on the decline (at least in Virginia Beach, Va.)
  • Driving after smoking marijuana is safer than driving after drinking alcohol; in fact, NHTSA went so far as to say it found no statistically significant increase in crash risk among drivers with marijuana in their system, compared to those entirely sober

I wish I’d been part of that study for all the obvious reasons, but I can’t help but wonder why an agency billing itself as being in some way responsible for traffic safety would decide to give Americans this kind of information. I mean, we’re Americans. We hear what we want to hear. If you say driving baked is essentially the same as driving sober, we’re going to drive baked -- that’s sound judgment.

Since the study was published, several highly ranked NHTSA spokesweenies have rushed to their podiums and phones spouting quotes: “Yes, we did say that, but even so, you should never, ever…” That’s a nice attempt at CYA, but you can flog that message till the chem trails fade and it’ll bounce off America’s good sense like it was made of Teflon.

Research a robber baron could love

While studies like NHTSA’s make you think about playing "Chopsticks" on your skull with a roofing hammer, others only look that way at first glance but actually contain groundbreaking discoveries with the potential to help multi-billion-dollar corporations save multiple billions of dollars that might otherwise have been spent on serving customers -- say, by extending Internet reach to remote areas.

That’s especially topical because of California’s recent announcement that it will support the unholy Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger if Comcast agrees to several conditions, one of which requires bringing broadband access to underserved populations, including rural ones. Justifiably outraged at this wanton obstruction to robber baron profiteering, Comcast executives stopped stabbing puppies with knitting needles long enough to state that California’s asks were “unrealistic.”

Wi-Fi in sheep's clothing

Apparently Comcast hasn't been paying attention to cutting-edge research coming out of England. In those studies, researchers drank beer, placed sensor-laden, Wi-Fi-equipped collars around the necks of sheep, drank more beer, and tracked the activities of those sheep wirelessly. This was necessary because sheep are complex and multifaceted animals, and they move far too quickly for you to see everything they do with the naked eye -- like standing. And eating. And standing. And walking. And maybe eating again. Nope, there's no way to glean new scientific insight from all that without bleeding-edge, ultramobile networking technology.

After the fifth or sixth pint, one of the English researchers realized he could turn the collars into Wi-Fi hotspots and thus bring Internet access to wherever his sheep might roam. Scandinavian drinkers are involved in a similar study using collars on herds of migratory reindeer, which they’re currently using as clever decoys in their hunt for Santa’s workshop.

Thus, the study is on the short list for several prestigious scientific awards. Not only did it advance our knowledge of sheep and beer by quantum leaps, it can help Comcast and other ruthless service providers.

The fruits of these studies mean Comcast doesn’t have to shell out billions to put a new chain of cell/sat towers hundreds of miles south of Bakersfield. All it has to do is pay for a few Wi-Fi collars and attach them to whatever migrates through the wilds of central California.

Might I suggest some of California’s migratory herds of herb-smoking pot drivers? I think that’s worth a study and I’m definitely the one to run it. Now, about that grant funding ...