Government. All too often, it doesn't do what people want it to do, instead spending the people's time and money doing things people either don't care about or actively don't want.
No, we're not talking about Obamacare, although that might be a case in point, depending on your outlook. We're talking -- for now, at least -- about the Federal Communications Commission, an agency that has a long and well-deserved reputation for slavishly bowing to the needs of the telecom, cable and broadcasting companies it regulates while losing sight of the needs of everyday taxpayers.
Case in point: cramming. But don't get us started. The latest episode in that long and sordid tale is covered in a separate story today, one chronicling how states took matters into their own hands after waiting more than a decade for the feds to do something about cellphone cramming.
Now the latest buzz in telecom circles is that new FCC Chairman and former cable lobbyist Tom Wheeler wants to redo the nation's telephone network, converting it basically to Internet telephony. No one is taking to the streets to demand this, although the telephone companies would certainly like to sell everyone broadband and stop maintaining their copper-based telephone networks.
In the Washington, D.C., suburbs, the copper network is in such bad shape that police have been pounding on the wrong doors in the middle of the night, as the 9-1-1 system sends them to the wrong address, according to local news reports.
But never mind that. The FCC has taken up a new cause -- cellphones on airliners. The agency says it will soon propose allowing passengers to use their phones once flights reach cruising altitude, something nearly no one wants and several airlines already say they won't allow.
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) struck a similar blow for freedom, allowing the use of laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. in flight as long as no talking was involved.
Talk it up
The FCC basically says there's no technical or safety reason to prohibit the calls. That may well be true, although the airlines would have to install equipment that would enable on-board cellphones to make contact with cell towers on the ground.
Actually, some engineers will tell you that cellphones work just fine in flight right now but have a tendency to "suck up" available bandwidth from ground stations. Equipment installed on airplanes would likely throttle down air-to-ground communications to a more reasonable level, these telecom engineers say. They asked not to be identified because their employers would object to their discussing the matter.
The FCC says it is carrying out the will of the people. It cited a survey of 1,600 U.S. adults that showed 51% opposed allowing in-flight calls while 47% thought it was a good idea. Hmmm ... maybe the FCC needs to look at those numbers again.
Whatever happens at the FCC, Southwest, Virgin America and Delta all say they don't plan to allow in-flight phone calls, citing overwhelming sentiment against it.
Those travelers who are somewhat long in the tooth may recall the days when airliners had smoking and no-smoking sections, which was kind of silly since smoke tends to drift, but it was widely accepted and strictly enforced.
Perhaps what will end up happening if the FCC liberates airborne cellphones is something similar. It's pretty easy to imagine the airlines -- which now put a price on everything -- charging an extra $20 or so for seats in the no-yakking section. Amtrak has quiet cars, after all, why can't United?
Of course, if there's going to be a Quiet Class, it would have to bar babies and anyone else likely to start yelling, crying loudly or uttering indecipherable grunts. Which would probably include most of us, at least now and then.