Affirmative Action for the Wealthy

Article excerpt

Do you believe in affirmative action? Most Americans would probably say, "That depends."

If, by affirmative action, you mean a little extra effort to offer opportunities to the poor and disadvantaged in our society, most people would certainly support it.

But affirmative action, as it has become institutionalized, usually means something quite different in practice. It has come to mean the distribution of goodies according to race, sex and ethnicity - with no reference to disadvantage at all.

It is obviously not the case that all blacks, women and Hispanics are in need of special advantages. Nor is it true that all white males are privileged. But our laws are written with just those assumptions.

A case in point: The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to auction off more of the electromagnetic spectrum for private use. The jargon is "PCS," which stands for personal communication services.

These bands of spectrum - "narrow band" and "broad band" - will permit businesses to offer a variety of new services ranging from improved paging devices that may be interactive as well as one-way; to vastly improved cordless phones that won't compromise privacy the way current models do; to affordable cellular phones; to high-end telephones that will completely replace the "wired local loop."

Jeff Olson, a communications lawyer in Washington, explains that the "wired local loop" is communications jock talk for your local phone company.

The new technology, when it comes on line, will permit each person, not each place, to have a phone number.

You will carry your phone on your person and be reachable, through a seamless switching system made up of satellites and cells, in your home in Palo Alto or in Capetown, South Africa. (The flip side of the convenience is the fact that it will be impossible for your secretary to tell people you are in a meeting.)

These technological marvels require spectrum space. In the past, when the FCC divvied up the broadcast spectrum for radio and television, it gave away the licenses - which turned out to be worth millions - for free.

But after more than 50 years of this huge giveaway, someone got the idea to auction off future bands of spectrum to the highest bidder, thus bringing in revenue to the U. …