39 comments on “On Owen Jones and his idea to nationalise the mobile phone companies

  1. Basically the entirely same set of arguments trotted out for every nationalisation since the telegraph system in the 1860s, and just as false today as they were then. Including the usual “when there is no competition it’s a monopoly (which is bad) and when there is competition this is wasteful duplication (which is bad)”.

    And the telegraph nationalisation was a disaster, too.

  2. Jesus wept, the man is a cretin. One of the reasons the mobile phone systems have been rolled out so effectively in the developing world is because there was no existing state bureaucracy to navigate. Hence in Russia, Nigeria, and Thailand you can easily get a mobile phone service from competing providers within minutes, but if you want a landline you go back in time 40 years and need umpteen papers, forms, stamps, and a half-year wait.

  3. I’ve noticed that a few of our regular favourite columnists have knocked out equally stupid articles over the last few weeks.

    If I’m being cynical, I would suggest it is to avoid having to write about Gaza/Iraq (although I know wee Owen has covered both).

  4. It would mean an integrated network, with masts serving customers on the basis of need, rather than subordinating the needs of users to the needs of shareholders

    My needs have been subordinated. Not quite sure how but anyhow woe!

  5. with masts serving customers on the basis of need

    Such need to be determined by a People’s Commissariat.

    In order that access can be granted in a fair and transparent manner, all applications for access to any particular mast must be submitted in triplicate and in person to the Commissariat Office closest to the mast (details of which are in on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’), no later than the last Thursday of the month preceding the requested access.

  6. No no no, shareholders are evil. They’re like the Illuminati, but more eviller. They are very keen to ensure that mobile phone masts are put in places that don’t serve customer needs, for instance. This is part of their evilness, which is unlimited in its evil.

  7. I’m starting to think Oxford isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It produces an awful lot of people just smart enough to talk themselves into believing absurdities.

    Owen Jones is a 30 year old boy, so he doesn’t remember how shit the GPO was. But back in its glory days of the 1970’s, it was like something out of the Soviet Union: crap service, antiquated technology, and it was expensive too.

    We’ve come to take cheap phone calls for granted but thirty or forty years ago people who weren’t rich worried about the cost of making even local calls, and an international call was a rare luxury, usually reserved to wish a brief Merry Christmas or Happy New Year over a crackly line to relatives in Canada or Australia.

    John Redwood (IIRC) told a story about placing a phone call to South Africa, only to have some bolshie GPO operator intrude into the conversation to announce that because his union disapproved of apartheid he would be terminating the call.

    Presumably Ownie would be just fine with a British Leyland Mobile doing the same to people trying to phone Israel.

  8. “I’ve noticed that a few of our regular favourite columnists have knocked out equally stupid articles over the last few weeks.”

    As pointed out by another bod here (possibly even our gracious host himself), most opinion/commentary hacks will have, at best, one or two subjects they know reasonably well, which they can crank out articles on at will. But when you have to hand in copy three times a week, you get silly nonsense like this*. Hitchens was a rare example in that he genuinely could write about anything and make it interesting. Toynbee is the anti-hitchens in this regard.

    * Jones is a a special case though, I wouldn’t say he was a flat out dunce (unlike Toynbee who is dim dim dim)just staggeringly uninterested in even contemplating that other people have different viewpoints. I never really understood where exactly he was coming from with all these – “Forward Comrades! Forward to the 1950s!” articles, till I saw him on TV one day, and realised he’s just a 6th former who’s had too many smarties.

  9. Steve-

    Academia is a Greek word. I think it is. If it isn’t, pretend it is.

    Anyway, this is the problem with the academic tradition. It’s too Greek. The focus of the Greek intellectuals was not on discovering the truth, but on being able to put together a good argument for whatever nonsense you believe in; and this is what Universities do.

    Which is why most of their output for the past century have believed in total bullshit, but have been very good at justifying why.

  10. The Meissen Bison>

    As usual, the language makes much more sense once you realise it’s code for ‘blame the Jews’. To Jones and his sort, Marxism is the necessary solution to the evil Jewish bankster conspiracy they believe in. They genuinely believe that we are all making ‘choices’ forced on us by ‘the Jews’, hence why they feel entitled to ignore what everyone repeatedly says and demonstrates that they actually want.

  11. It’s something of a caricature, Ian B, but the Greek intellectuals who were supposed to make the weaker argument the stronger were the sophists.

    Plato (proto-fascist though he may be) was extremely interested in the truth.

    I wouldn’t characterise the Oxford history school as particularly rooted in classicism, for that matter.

  12. Hitchens was interesting to read but that was partly from his intellectual originality – or at least, the difficulty putting him in a clearly labelled box. The fact he possessed majestic prose didn’t mean he wrote magisterially about any topic he turned to. When he was writing about things which he was shaky on, and I happened to know a bit about, I noticed he was just as prone to basic factual (often technical) howlers as any other denizen of the commentariat outside their comfort zone.

    Of course he put together an almighty forceful argument even when the foundations he was building it on were misunderstood rubbish, but I’m not sure whether that’s a sign he knew he was on dodgy ground but put faith in bluster to see him through, or if like so many other commentators he saw himself as The Man Who Knows Everything Important And Is Right About Anything (And Wants You To Know It). Either way he’d have been a fantastic legal advocate, which brings us right back to the role of the ancient sophists.

  13. He’s right, though: it would cure unemployment. UKtelco would send round a phone-cleaner and a phone-cleaner’s mate every month to clean your phone (for “Public Health reasons”: you can’t be too careful!). You’d have to promise to be in between 08:00 and 16:00 hours on a specified weekday. Sorted!

  14. Ian B – Yarp.

    And it underscores the madness of UK government policy. We’re funnelling half of our school leavers into higher education – why? The top ten most popular courses includes sociology, history, psychology and law.

    Nobody needs more sociologists, historians or psychologists, and we sure as hell don’t need any more lawyers. The population as a whole isn’t any smarter or better informed or wealthier as a result. We’re ending up with highly indebted graduates making coffee or stacking shelves for a living.

    It’s time we asked what universities are for. At the moment they appear to be an expensive job creation scheme for people who couldn’t fend for themselves in the private sector.

  15. As an aside, aside from being a talking head and columnist, Owen has also tried to get his hands dirty with the business of political mobilisation. Which actually requires a certain amount of practical and operational skill. In that field he has been, to his credit, moderately triflingly successful. Definitely in comparison to fellow commentator-activists like Eoin (who tried to make a Labour party faction of his own, Labour Left or something, which seems to have gone nowhere) or the academic type who blogs at Lenins Tomb and the Guardian (who is trying to build up a new revolutionary party to replace the SWP, last I heard). Laurie Penny mostly seems to want to sell books now she can’t live off the notoriety of liveblogging student riots (I would actually have more respect for her if she’d organised a few). And Polly doesn’t seem to have tried actively organising anything.

    Have to give a guy credit for realising that the odd blog post or newspaper column can’t actually effect real change, and getting off his arse instead.

  16. It’s actually interesting that he brings up the comparison with the railways himself. In both instances supporters of nationalisation employ a sort of fallacy of the inverse, as follows:

    If there is privatisation, then there is also poor service and high prices.
    Nationalisation is not privatisation, so there will not be poor service or high prices.

  17. @ Dearieme

    Spinal Tap did a sketch about exactly this. After the band ends the bassist goes to work for his dad as a Telephone Cleaners assistant – “unfortunately people have begun to realise they can easily replicate the service we are offering with a bottle of generic cleaner and a piece of blue rag, for a fraction of the price”

    @ MyBurningEars

    Oh, I’ve no doubt a pissed-up Hitchens blagged his way through articles on subjects on which he was iffy. But at least he was entertaining! Jones, et al, as well as not knowing of what they speak are also wretched writers.

  18. A couple of things:

    1) masts (commonly referred to as towers in the industry) don’t serve customers, they serve to install antennas and base stations (usually at the base of the masts) that serve customers. That equipment can also be installed lots of other places (e.g. rooftops). Masts are expensive and we in the industry are not stupid so they are already shared

    2) the UK mobile networks are crap compared to those in most other European countries. The main reason for this is that it’s more difficult than in other countries to get planning permission for new structures. Government (local in this case) is therefore more of a barrier than of help (no surprise)

    3) it is simply not true that fixed access networks are necessarily a natural monopoly. Almost 50% of the UK population are e.g. covered by two separate access networks (using diffeent technologies but capable of providing the sam services); that of BT and that of Virgin Media. The situation is very similar in lots of other countries. In some (rural) areas there may only be room for one network but most certainly not everywhere (there are places in Europe with four different parallel networks)

  19. When I first turned up here, Costa Rica’s phone system was entirely State-owned, including the mobile service and to a large extent Internet provision. It was diabolical. It took years (literally) to get a fixed line and the mobile system was TDMA, ten years after everyone had switched to GSM. The only thing it had going for it was that it was cheap, but all that meant is that it was subsidised. Then, about five years ago, the monopoly was broken up, the various sub-entities were spun off as private companies, and new operators were allowed in. Now we have (I think) six mobile operators, most of whom provide Internet, plus the multiple cable TV operators also offering broadband. Fixed lines are installed in a matter of days even where no cabling had existed before. Prices are still low thanks to the amount of competition. And the mobile system is 4G LTE.

    Owen Jones is an insect. Thankfully his wicked ideas have very little chance of being enacted. Being Silly on the Internet is not yet a crime, and Being Silly in the Guardian hurts no-one except the writers and the sad, sad, sad (but very small) bunch of people who take them seriously.

  20. Jones is also too you to remember that 25 years or so ago whole communities, aided and abetted by ignorant MPs and idle columnists were taking to the barricades to stop those evil mobile operators rolling out sites in to their areas. We even had the ludicrous examples of people using mobile phones to call in to the Stewart committee which was looking into the H&S issues around masts to try to get mast being built.

    At that time it was a gold rush and the MNOs would have built anything anywhere given half a chance. Now we have MPs leading whole communities demanding that the MNOs build loss making masts, there’s no pleasing some. And in some cases its the same MPs. In one case in Harrow we proposed using an existing telecoms mast for a new installation, in line with the code of best practice, and even that was objected to by a local NIMBY Councillor.

    Jonesey may not be aware, because he won’t have done any research he’s just been spoon fed something by a vested interest somewhere, that the MNOs are also consolidating masts anyway. Vodafone and Telefonica (O2) are even radio sharing outside London (Project Beacon) and H3G and EE (T-Mobile.Orange) have been mast sharing for some time.

  21. ‘It was all state-funded from the start,’ says Owen.

    My father used to read the Telegraph over breakfast years ago and at least three days out of every five would chunter/explode with something along the lines of, ‘Government funding? But the only money the government has is ours!’

    That was the very early 1970s, when we did have a phone but I believe a lot of people didn’t.

    The other point he always made to me was that you could ditch a private provider but you could never ditch the government.

    I interrogated these points quite a lot in my youth and could never find a flaw in them, which is why I never had a lefty phase unlike most reasonably well to do teenagers.

    Sure, private providers screw stuff up, because we all do, but only the State gets to fuck you over and laugh at you.

    Conversely, I reckon Owen Jones’ dad was probably a cunt.

  22. Steve: “Nobody needs more sociologists, historians or psychologists, and we sure as hell don’t need any more lawyers.”

    Oh, but according to Baroness Warsi, lawyers (who immediately decide they can’t stand even that much real work & become professional politicians) are working class now…

  23. Is it worth 25 intelligent people spending maybe 5 minutes each addressing this man’s ignorance? There are billions as thick as him in the world, and hundreds of them write for the Guardian.

  24. Emil made a few worthy points. Everyone else is clueless.

    The wired telephone system was designed by engineers employed by a big company. When your electricity is cut off, the phone carries on working. For a couple of days, way after when you cannot boil a kettle.

    The mobile phone system was designed by a bunch of kids. They did not realise that phone users have a work life, a family life and a sex life; three phones might be necessary, which you might not understand if you do not have a sex life.

    This week they proclaim that you can have multiple identities on a mobile phone. So phone companies have worked out one tenth of the problem.

    S-fucking-M-fucking-S is an interesting solution. Phone companies make it expensive for people to speak cheaply to one another, person to person. If I am in a fucking big city, I wanna talk cheaply.

    Before mobile phones existed, I phoned a work colleague in Japan daily over a wired connection. The connection was crystal clear. Mobile phone users speak from a bubble.

    Tech biz promises to solve problems. Company B can redirect your call to Company F, but they charge you for it. Wired telephony and mobile phones can be joined.

    Big companies promise a lot but they are run by kids.

  25. Only with the power of the state in place could we create a centralised shared network. The state would build a national mobile broadband network and have T-Mobile, 3, Orange and others all using it to improve efficiency. They would probably call it ‘Mobile Broadband Network’ or something and people in the industry would refer to it in shorthand as MBNL…oh wait…

  26. What gets me is this Jones quote from Tim’s Forbes article:

    “As I write this, I fiddle occasionally with my iPhone: ”

    You can’t beat it, can you? Our short-arse Trot’s fallen for the ultimate piece of electronic bling. The least; phone as an instrument to make phone calls, on the market. The one product couldn’t conceivably have come out of a nationalised mobile phone system.

  27. Owen Jones claims that the internet was created by Sir Tim working at CERN. Actually Sir Tim developed the *world-wide-web* while working at CERN, 90% of this was developed by Sir Tim while in the private sector and/or using technology created by Steve Jobs’ NeXT.

  28. Those of us old enough to remember when BT was state-owned can also remember that initially the UK had two mobile networks, one jointly owned by BT and Securicor, the other owned by Racal and Vodafone. The private sector one was a bit more innovative and efficient – it is now worth more than *the whole of* BT.

  29. >>I reckon Owen Jones’ dad was probably a cunt.

    It’s hereditary then? And they get stupider with each generation?

  30. Re – Steve “We’re funnelling half of our school leavers into higher education – why? ”

    Look up a US guy called Mike Rowe on TED and at his site – http://profoundlydisconnected.com/

    He makes exactly that point whilst bemoaning the lack of skills in practical trades. More importantly he is actually trying to do something about it. He’s is also a great speaker and is hugely entertaining…

  31. I am just about old enough to remember the nationalised era – local calls at 10p a “unit” (which always seemed less than a minute, not sure any more what it was supposed to be), in mid 80’s p. What’s that with inflation in today’s money? 30, 40p?

    And that’s supposed to be cheap and efficient?

  32. What’s with the comment about making the tax on the resource high so ” that we can pay less in other taxes…”. Are you mad Worstall, you never pay less; if they hike the tax on mobile bandwidth, they’ll hike the tax on other things to compensate, not lower them !

  33. “Is it worth 25 intelligent people spending maybe 5 minutes each addressing this man’s ignorance? There are billions as thick as him in the world, and hundreds of them write for the Guardian.”

    You’re right, we should split up and use our resources more effectively.

    For example, look at Ellie Mae Hagan’s latest column, where she attempts to refute “pay gap deniers” – yes Tim, something else you deny!

    In it she:

    – misinterprets a study which comes to the exact opposite conclusion from the one she is trying to show
    – contradicts her main argument in successive paragraphs
    – uses Grazia magazine as a source of evidence

    It was worth reading the hundreds of comments pointing out all her errors. It introduced me to the term “Woozle Effect”, which perfectly describes Ritchie’s methods.

  34. Steve, people can study a topic at university because it interests them. Do we need more historians? Probably not. I shared many of my courses with the history students, many of whom are now in careers nothing to do with history. Can they research? Probably – can they write? Yes. Do they now understand some of the errors others made in the past? Probably.
    I’m a war studies graduate, I don’t need to take over the world. But I can look at a conflict and its reporting and ask questions such as ‘who is winning the media war?’ and ‘why are they focusing on this rather than that?’.
    A course can be of use outside of a workplace, outside of a career. Perhaps we need more people doing courses that point out historical mistakes, what didn’t work last time, what bias exists and so on.
    I still use the skills I picked up at university in research and putting together some quick notes. 🙂

  35. @Martin Davies “I’m a war studies graduate, I don’t need to take over the world. But I can look at a conflict and its reporting and ask questions such as ‘who is winning the media war?’ and ‘why are they focusing on this rather than that?’.”

    I don’t have that degree but can also do those things. As can lots of others.

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