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A letter to my Senator

Monday, March 21, 2011
In response to the proposed AT&T/T-mobile merger, I fired off a quick letter to both my senator and my congressman encouraging them to do what they could to discourage it.

Will this have an effect? Probably not when only one person sends it. Perhaps, however, others will do the same, and we can change what's going on.
Dear Senator Wyden,

I just wanted to write a quick letter encouraging you to do what you can to have the FCC block the proposed AT&T/T-mobile merger that's made the news in the past couple of days.

I believe that the proposed merger would be bad for competition, bad for the communications industry, and bad for the US economy in whole, and the FCC should, as part of their mandate, not allow this merger to continue.

1) Bad for competition
a) AT&T and T-mobile are the two major carriers in the United States that use the GSM standard for cell phone communications (Verizon and Sprint use CDMA). So, essentially, AT&T and T-mobile are the only two companies competing with each other in their narrowest category.
b) Allowing mergers to create even bigger mega-carriers puts the squeeze even more on what few remaining local carriers there are.

2) Bad for the communications industry
a) Are Verizon & Sprint next? If this merger goes through, what's to stop Verizon & Sprint merging? This would leave only two national carriers, which will be terrible for the industry and terrible for the consumer.
b) Have we not learned from history? The government broke up AT&T once before, and now it's maneuvering into that same position again. AT&T has shown that, as a company, it will either grow until it controls the market or collapses.
c) As the only GSM carrier, the proposed AT&T&T-mobile would be the only carrier to server international travelers as the GSM standard is what's widely used outside of the US.

3) Bad for the US economy
a) AT&T isn't trying to merge with T-mobile to give T-mobile's 42,000 employees better jobs or better benefits; it's looking for T-mobile's customers and infrastructure. So a majority of those 42,000 employees will be finding themselves out of work in an industry increasingly dominated by fewer carriers.
b) The economy and taxes are fueled by transactions. The more transactions there are, the more tax revenue is collected and the more economic growth we experience. Removing major companies from the playing field is going to have a negative ripple effect on the economy, especially since AT&T will no longer be trying to put in the infrastructure to support and expand its own network, it will just be absorbing T-mobile's.

In summary this merger is a bad idea and nobody by AT&T will win by doing it. As an AT&T customer, I'm looking forward to leaving when my contract is up; I'm tired of dropped calls and spotty service. If mergers like are allowed to continue, I'll have no place to go.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully submitted,

Burton Simmons

Gosh, I hope I got all my facts right. Maybe I should write to them more often; it felt somewhat liberating to do so.

Followup: The Joys of Home Ownership (Part 1)

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Recap: Just over a year ago I purchased a house. At the time, the house was right about four years old, meaning it's right about five years old now.

It happens I came home one night recently to find that my house was 60 degrees inside, a temperature significantly below what I had expected it to be. Puzzled, I tried turning up the heat. Nothing happened. I fiddled with the settings and heard the thermostat click, but still nothing happened. Then I went to the garage to look at the furnace and smelled the natural gas.

Of course, the first thing everyone says is "immediately leave the house and call the gas company". Well, apparently I'm bad at following directions because I just opened the garage door and the gas dispersed quickly. Then I opened the furnace to have a look. I have an Armstrong Air Ultra V Tech 80, which is a fancy name for what is apparently an uncommon (on the west coast) and unremarkable furnace. I could quickly see that no flame was coming on when the ignition tried to ignite, and that the gas that wasn't igniting was leaking out into the garage.

Cold and not knowing a whole lot about furnaces, I shut the gas line off to it and went back inside. First thing in the morning, after shivering my way out of bed, I called Pyramid Heating and Cooling, the fine folks that installed my air conditioning. They were able to get there that afternoon to take a look.

The non-standard ignitor

The gentleman that showed up spent about 19 seconds determining that the gas igniter wasn't igniting. He explained the furnace start-up cycle and that, after about 7 seconds, the whole thing will shut down if it tries to start and then doesn't sense a flame (he pointed out the sensor for me), then showed me the bits of the igniter that had fallen off. It's a small, simple part that doesn't appear to do much - until you've got one that's not working.

The the problem came. Because it's a locally uncommon furnace, it uses a locally uncommon parts. Despite having dozens of igniters in his truck, none of them (not even the "universal" ones) were compatible with my furnace. He called around to the one local distributor for that furnace he could find and the part was "special order only". Finally, he was able to get someone to cross-reference the part with another furnace manufacturer which used the same part and and there WAS one in the Portland Metro Area - I just couldn't get it until the next day.

So I spent another cold night at my house.

Finally, the second day after the heat in my house went out (during the winter), the gentleman arrived with the right part. It took him roughly 28 seconds to get it installed, after which the heat in my house fired right up. Also, watching the burners light up is awesome, but that's beside the point. And what is that point? The point of this article is that watch next time someone mentions "the joys of home ownership". They'll most likely be gritting their teeth and having vivid flashbacks.



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