The prison yard was abuzz with rumors about who would turn up next. In one of those bizarre judicial coincidences, all the bad boys of broadband had been sent up the river to the same hoosegow, where they were comparing notes.
There was the Couder gang. Bernie and Scottie, whose specialty was inventive accounting and memorizing the Fifth Amendment, were strutting tough. Kenny-boy groused around, reminding them about his foolproof plan for the broadband futures game.
Jack was lurking around, too, ready as always to offer upbeat recommendations.
And although Martha had been busted for malpractice in a different sector, the boys brought her into their fold because of her TV connections.
"We gotta make a break for it," whispered Scottie. "We can hole up in my mansion; they'll never find us there. It's just too big."
"What's the rush?" responded one of the Couder boys. "The market will stay depressed for months, maybe years thanks to our handiwork. Let's just wait it out."
"Right. Let's just be like Irving," said old man Couder, referring to the legendary Irving Kahn — a pioneer in both cable franchising and doing time. "Back in the franchising days, he got caught doing what everyone did; but because he ran the biggest MSO, the courts decided to make an example of him."
TALE IS TOLD
Old man Couder fleshed out the tale. The great Kahn was forced to divest his cable stock near the top of the market, before the bust that his incarceration helped trigger.
"Irving was so good at what he did. He even ran the cable system in his prison camp. And when he got out, he started an even bigger MSO, and sold it to what we call 'legitimate interests.' "
"Hey, we could do that," said Bernie. "The world will be starving for more bandwidth capacity by the time we get out of here."
"I'll put in a good word for it," said Jack, although the others thought he was being too grubby, too soon.
But Martha quietly smiled and said, "That would be a good thing."
"I wonder if Irving dreamed up the term 'walled garden' when he was in the cooler," one of the young Couders mused.
Kenny-boy brought them back to reality.
"I did my part. I was the one who dreamed up the deal with Blockbuster. I could have revolutionized video-on-demand. It was a beautiful 20-year exclusive deal. My bookie was betting that Blockbuster wouldn't last that long. Who'd of thunk that we'd be the one to tank first?"
"But yeah," said one of the Couder boys, "that's what we always liked about this broadband racket. The quick thrills, not to mention the constant intrigue that those propeller-heads dream up — with code names like 'dark fiber' and 'signal piracy."
"It's what I always liked about the business," said Bernie.
"We've gotta blow this joint soon," Scottie repeated, obviously intent on getting back to his specialty. And he kept flirting with Martha, whose come-hither glances suggested that she had some skills in cooking books as well as her better-known recipes.
The other guys weren't buying it. Deep inside, they realized the world they would come out to was not like the one they had left.
The broadband implosion had decimated their supply chain. Without new orders, the vendors of headend and central-office equipment had been keeling over. Chip makers were in disarray, and even programmers were worrying about where their next order would come from.
"Oh, we're b-a-a-a-d," trilled one of the cocky toughs. And that made them all think about where they could ply their skills when they did get out of the slammer.
"I'm thinking about nanotech or CRM," said one — looking at new turf for his special skills. "Lots of chances to hurt unsuspecting customers and colleagues there."
Others merely wanted to get into some witness protection program, claiming that they were just figureheads in a pervasive attack on big business.
"Sure, promises were made and money was spent. But we were doing it all in the national interest," Bernie reminded them. "Didn't you all just love it when my John-boy told Congress that the broadband backbone is vital to national security. I think he actually shed a real tear. And he didn't overtly ask for a federal handout."
"Bankruptcy protection is usually enough," Jack offered.
They all pondered that idea for a few moments.
Finally, a passing guard broke the silence.
"Hey, you guys are in the show business. Maybe you'll want to see the movie tonight in cellblock one. It's some 'Road' flick."
"It must be one of those nice Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour films," said old man Couder. "I used to own a movie theater that I bought for a real steal. Those were nice, clean movies. Just like the ones I allow on my cable systems."
"Nah," said the guard. "This is a new Tom Hanks flick about some 'Road.' They say it's a documentary you guys should see."
Contributing curmudgeon Gary Arlen mans the I-Way Patrol for Broadband Week.