Cellphones, tycoons and the market economy
The cellphone service providers cannot be blamed for doing everything in their power to cash in.
Cellphones may corrupt social development Photo: marc israel sellem
My monthly mobile phone bill for the past decade has stood at an average of less
than NIS 90. No, it isn’t because I found a cheap provider before
Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon’s most recent revolution, but simply
because I use my mobile phone (purchased in 2003 for a song) with moderation,
and only when absolutely necessary. I totally avoid text messages, and can live
quite happily without all the smartphone applications, that are generally
speaking superfluous yet highly addictive.
I am not saying that everyone
should follow my example. We live in a free society, and everyone can please
himself. However, it should be noted that one of the reasons why people
spend so much money on their mobile phones is that they and their kids are
talking, text messaging, and in the case of smartphones, surfing themselves
stupid. The cellphone service providers cannot be blamed for doing everything in
their power to cash in.
I don’t think anyone has ever done a quantitative
and qualitative study regarding what people use their mobile phones for, but
from what we can hear all around us all the time, the quantity of idle chatter
is endless, and only God knows what one would find if one were to check text
messages and the use of smartphone applications.
Besides, the damage to
the environment – both noise- and radiation-wise – is immeasurable, not to
mention what the mobile phone culture has done (together with Facebook and its
like) to direct social interaction, anti-social behavior, and the ability just
to be without electronic diversions.
So my basic instinct is to say: If
we cannot teach the masses moderation – let the masses pay through the nose. At
the same time my main concern, now that the cost of using cellphones is about to
fall drastically, and the prices of the phones themselves are expected to fall
as well, is that the cacophony, SMS graphomania, and the number of people
walking around with their faces stuck in the screens of their smartphones, are
just going to continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
opening of the commercial market – any part of it – to much more authentic free
competition, is a welcome development, because in many sections of our so called
market economy there is very little free competition, which is supposed to be
one of the main benefits to consumers of the laissez faire
Hopefully a way will be found to introduce real competition not
only into the telecommunication market, but also into our banking system,
supermarket chains, housing market and other commercial sectors, in order to
bring down the cost of living.
The current move initiated by Kahlon is
also important in the campaign against the scandalous wild and unchecked
development of the so-called tycoons. The tycoons differ from other rich men in
that their wealth and status are not based on manufacturing, or the provision of
a tangible services based on expertise (I have in mind people like Stef
Wertheimer, who developed the legendary Iscar Metalworking manufacturing company
from a workshop in his garage, or the late Yekutiel Federman who built a
magnificent luxury hotel chain from little more than hard work and dedication),
but rather on casual ventures that form part of leveraged financial pyramids,
which are liable to collapse at any moment.
The three basic providers of
cellphone services – Pelephone, Cellcom and Partner – are all owned by tycoons,
whose business strategy is based on overcharging for the services or goods they
provide in order to repay leveraged bank and stock market loans, and to pay
billions in dividends to those who hold their stock so that they will continue
to increase their holdings.
True, as long as the party continues, we all
share in the profits, since our provident, pension and mutual funds are all
invested in tycoons’ shares and securities of one sort or another. But then when
the party ends, and the value of the tycoons’ shares and securities start to
fall (as it is currently doing) – we are the first to suffer, and there is no
one around to answer for the unreasonable risks taken, or compensate us for our
Of course, at this stage we do not know whether the new cellphone
service providers will actually manage to establish themselves on the basis of
their current meager infrastructures, and promises for sustainable cheap
We also do not know whether the three original service
providers will really be forced to cut down services and lay off employees, or
whether they will be sufficiently creative to reinvent
Nevertheless, hopefully some lessons will be learned – which
is what we say whenever an economic earthquake occurs, or threatens to occur.
But do we really learn?
The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley
College and was a Knesset employee for many years.