Thursday, August 04, 2005

Don't Call Us...

...even on Uncle Sam's dime:

More than a century after telephones came to towns like Seattle, a small company called WeavTel is pushing to connect Stehekin (pronounced sta-HEE-kin) to the outside world. But instead of embracing the idea, many of the town's 100 or so year-round residents are fighting hard to keep WeavTel and the telephones out.

....Some lifelong residents, descendants of Stehekin's first white settlers, fear the phone system would further diminish the town's already eroding spirit of self-reliance. They fume over a federally mandated subsidy program that would enable WeavTel to make money even if many of the residents never hook up.

['WeavTel, a small company based near Chelan, has proposed building a $2 million system to provide telephone and high-speed Internet service.

['The cost: To pay for the system, WeavTel hopes to tap so-called "universal service" subsidies. Under a provision of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, everyone who pays a phone bill is assessed a monthly "universal service" fee. A portion of that money is used to subsidize phone service to rural areas nationwide where there aren't enough customers to cover the costs. In rural Washington, for instance, more than 400,000 homes and businesses receive about $68 million a year worth of subsidized phone service.']

....The phone opponents won a big battle last week when the National Park Service, citing, in part, local opposition to WeavTel's plan, announced it would not allow the company to construct its phone system on public land. The Park Service owns much of the property in and around Stehekin.

But WeavTel is not giving up. The company this week plans to ask the Park Service to reconsider its ruling against laying lines and erecting towers on public land.

....There are no roads to Stehekin. To get here, most people take one of three small ferries that make daily runs in the summer up Lake Chelan. The lake, nearly 1,500 feet deep in places, snakes 50 miles through a deep gorge that serves as a gateway to North Cascades National Park.

Not really a town, Stehekin is a mix of rustic log cabins and a few modern summer homes scattered nine miles along the Stehekin River valley. Most residents work for the park or for one of the local tourism businesses. There are as many bikes as cars, which must be barged in.

People seldom lock their homes or cars. Kids ride without bike helmets; grownups often don't bother with seat belts. Waving to passers-by is the custom, even if it's someone you saw minutes earlier.

For years, locals bought their gas on the honor system — just write down how much you pumped and pay later. That's still the way things are bought at the local bakery.

There's no ATM and the only shopping in town is at a tiny convenience store that caters mostly to tourists. For groceries and supplies, locals send orders — along with signed blank checks — "downlake" to Chelan.

....Bill Paleck, superintendent of the North Cascades National Park, said of the nearly 60 letters the Park Service received, fewer than five were from people in favor of the phones.

Presumably Paul Krugman (as Scrivener noted) wouldn't understand why these people would not look on government as their savior, for providing them something they don't want.

Modern American politics is dominated by the doctrine that government is the problem, not the solution ... You don't have to be a liberal to realize that this is wrong-headed.

No comments: