EXAMINE THE NET WAY OF LIFE
eTicket to Ride
When electronic plane tickets first arrived, there was some hesitation by the general public. There was a reassuring sense of walking into a travel agent's office, sitting down, and watching her scroll down menu screens in a few minutes to book air flight, seat assignments, hotel accommodations, and rental car, with all appropriate discounts. You walk out of the office with printed tickets, boarding passes and confirmations. No one could trust putting detailed air travel, connecting flights or a midnight rental reserve to a non-paper computer screen.
The airline industry has changed dramatically in the last few years. Booking agents are a dying breed; holding on to business class customers on retainer was the key to survival as airlines cut profit margins for booking tickets to nominal sums. Then, a long grinding recession and 9/11 killed the business class client as corporations found that there were other avenues to face to face meetings. Then the corporations hit a profit funk, and downsized business class to ICU status. The airline industry is bleeding billions; US Air and United now in bankruptcy.
Two years ago, I used the web to plan a week in Northern California. The research and search engine of the internet planned most aspects of a drive through big surf of Santa Cruz to the wine country of Napa. Checking options for hotel accommodations, rates and features was an easy afternoon of clicking and printing. Electronic mapping made the trip an easy drive of the various stages of the trip. But we still had hard airplane tickets.
Last month, I had a short notice business trip to San Diego to book. Based on current circumstances, the net was the only quick resort to book airfare and hotel accommodations. The only problem was that the hotel website would freeze just before confirming the room booking, so I had to use the 800 telephone number to get an agent. The ecommerce software had double booked me two rooms. So a cancellation confirmation number was emailed to me. Then the airline booking was next. With the possibility of a United bankruptcy filing, and the unknown reaction by its unions, I opted for American. After putting in the flight criteria, non-stop preference, I booked the deal. I opted for fax confirmation e-tickets. Then waited for them to arrive. I got nervous after the first day when the tickets did not arrive. I was about to scramble for an 800 number when the documents arrived.
At O'Hare, the eticket has been enhanced by kiosk computer terminals. If you did not have to check any baggage, you could go to a kiosk and punch in your locator number after swiping your credit card for ID. A screen came up confirming you flight, with a graphic of the cabin seat configuration. A couple of touch screen selections, and a boarding pass is printed out. Instead of standing in long check-in lines, in two minutes I was strolling through the security checkpoint.
In San Diego, a much smaller airport, much like a rural jetport, there were no check-in kiosks. Just a single long check-in line. An attendant came down trying to pull customers who would probably miss their flights. Upon seeing an e-ticket, she said I did not need to stay in line, just go to the gate with the e-ticket. Of course, you had to wait an hour for an attendant to show up to print out a boarding pass.
But the wave of the future is upon the airline industry. With universal etickets, airlines can cut personnel. The kiosks worked fine. The only areas of glitches are the actual Internet confirmation steps, which is apparent in most e-commerce enterprises. But as the ecommerce infrastructure matures, the glitches should disappear. But even the flawless execution of electronic itinerary will not reduce prime time long lines at the airport security machines.
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It is not enough to be kind of the computer world. A man who can spend millions to buy an entire regional railroad to put under his Christmas tree now wants to be the provider of your interactive telephone experience. Bill Gates does not need the money; he needs more and more hardware boxes, any shape or size will do, to pack some version of Windows OS into it to keep the mountains of royalties piling into the bank. The lite version of Windows managing one's cellular phone reception is a sickening thought. But again, he has tried to push into the set-top cable modem box and the game station entertainment platform, with limited success. The 411 for Gates is more marketshare at any price. The 911 is that he is running low on suitable hardware platforms for his dinosaur software system.
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News site publishers are getting decompression bubbles because an Australian court has ruled that a US online publication submitted itself to Aussie jurisdiction when an alleged libelous article was downloaded from the web within Australia. This global jurisdiction question, where a publisher has no physical contacts but is subject to unlimited venues for suits, has potential to shut down many sites, big and small, for fear of unlimited nuisance suits.
The increase in e-government web sites, where taxpayers and/or public has free access to public laws, regulations, government interpretations is gaining ground. The best feature is the ability to download government forms which increases productivity and quicker filing with government agencies.
The Utility Meltdown
Was it deregulation or disembowelment of corporate ethics that has ruined the bread and butter widows and orphans stocks in energy and telecom utilities?
A power company and a telephone company like Ma Bell were dividend paying annuities that a generation of retirees used to live off before social security supplement became the main retirement revenue source. At one time in the not-to-distant-past, if you wanted to retire, you have had to have saved enough wealth to be able to retire. That usually meant no debt, the 30 year mortgage on the one house you bought out of the service was paid for, and investment income from certificates of deposit or common stocks was enough to pay for all living expenses (food, medication, taxes, insurance). The boring utilities were regulated monopolies that seamlessly provided basic necessities at a reasonable profit to shareholders. There was no awe when one flipped on the light switch each morning. There was no buzz except a bad connection with dialing anywhere in the USA from a wall phone. It was predictable. Like a fined tune watch.
The 1990s Internet new economy firestorm of dot.com companies were supposed to be the new utilities. They were to integrate every aspect of our lives. Everything. From how we worked, to how we shopped, to how we generated power, to how we consumed power as a personal commodity, to how we communicated with each other. The old boring business models were to be disregarded, deregulated and left to new economy wizkids. Safe bets in utility stocks were disregarded by the very company boards that forgot the comfort in the watchlike predictability and high dividend yields widows and orphans were comforted by since the Great Depression.
The Internet was to transform the local power company into a national energy commodity dealer through electronic markets. Enron, Dynergy, El Paso. High flying names only a few years ago. But we now know that the net has a mythical siren illusion that can cover a multitude of sins. Billions of market value has been wiped off the retirement accounts of workers who can no longer afford to retire. Ever.
With savings rates near zero adjusted to inflation, people with any capital have returned to the boring concept of investing in dividend paying stocks. However, the meltdown has wiped out the mainstays of the shrinking dividend universe. Tech stocks have traditionally refused to pay dividends while accumulating billions. The thought was the reserves were for additional research and development. Besides, a skyrocketing stock price was enough return for their shareholders. But in a choppy market stalemate between bears and bulls, tech stocks have have swamped the safe harbor utility sector.
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Follow-up: WTC Proposals
The Port Authority of New York has released the seven professional finalists for the design of the new World Trade Center. The professional designs are probably worse than the first rejected batch. As stated in previous cyberbarf editions, the Internet is a useful forum for an exchange of ideas and concepts. CNN's website devoted space for viewer submissions for the new WTC. Many of their proposals were interesting, unique, functional and memorable. (See, cnn.com). It appears that the professional designers were in a sealed closet because none of the viewers submissions inspired any creative final design. It is a shame since the PANY wanted public input. It came in the form of visual emails and conceptual art, especially on the CNN site.
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