The Breakfast Table

Who’ll Take the Tolls on the Info Highway?

Dear Fareed,

A Kosovo deal does seem to be in the works. But even if 60,000 troops from various countries camp out in Kosovo, will the refugees go back to their homes? Haven’t lots of villages been torched? By the way, if they hold out in the refugee camps, they may see Gwyneth Paltrow, who has offered to go on a goodwill sojourn there.

The ATT/Mediaone/Microsoft deal may be good for us. Mediaone owns 25 percent of Time Warner and we have Time Warner cable here in Manhattan. Because of this deal, our antiquated cable system may zoom into the 21st century. Behind the alphabet soup of these cable/telephone/content/software deals is the idea that one line with two-way power will come into a single house and deliver phone, Internet, and television. And when I say television, I mean the digital variety that does things we can’t even imagine. We could download hundreds of movies a day. We could watch The Godfather before breakfast. Doesn’t that sound great? Sports fans could even choose which camera they want to follow for a certain game (follow Pat Ewing, please). We have a little less use for that product, but it sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Microsoft is sniffing around this deal so that it can bid for the set-top box that runs information back and forth from the home to the cyber goodie shops: the movie and video game libraries, the computer servers that run our e-mail, the stores where we want to cyber shop and whatever else I am too much of a Luddite to even dream of. In the near term, there will be one system through which all of this travels, kind of like DOS. The company that develops that standard is going to have the kind of crazy p/e ratios you were cramming down my throat yesterday. In millennium speak, that company is a toll taker. It makes money whenever a new movie vendor wants access to the home viewers. Slate is probably not the right venue for this question, but do we want Microsoft doing this?