That's the spirit!

MCI WorldCom


is sporting an RBOC attitude. Sitting in a room full of chief technical officers at the

CTO Forum

in San Francisco Tuesday, WorldCom's CTO Fred Briggs shook his head during the Q&A session. When asked if the poor, slobbish cell-phone population would ever have one phone that works on all communications networks: "Not in my lifetime," he laughed, sounding more like a Baby Bell than a telecom rabble-rouser.

Atta boy! Welcome to the rest stop of the revolution. Have a smoke.

Believe you me, it's not an easy problem to solve. And there are plenty of economic constraints and regulatory-induced pains facing the long-distance competitor. But from a guy whose company is trying to buy one of the largest mobile operators in the U.S., it was a little damning.

Would we ever see fiber to our homes? "We could bring fiber into the home, but the cost of trenching and bringing it in is too great," he said. "We can't see anything, when we're looking at the services that would be available, that we'll get enough return to justify that investment."

Tell that to







Pacific Bell

and Canadian telecom firm

Futureway Communications

, which are all attempting to bring fiber into the home -- a trend splashed across the cover of a recent

MIT Technology Review.

Don't get me wrong, the long-distance upstart isn't as bloated and manipulative as the Baby Bell offshoots of the Ma Bell breakup. But where's the rebellious, roguish air that drove WorldCom and Bernie Ebbers into the frontal lobes and front pages of American business?

Briggs wasn't afraid to toss out MCI WorldCom's estimates that network traffic will grow 800% over the next several years because of data and e-commerce loads. He delivered Gartner's $7 trillion figure for business-to-business e-commerce by 2003. But fiber to your home, that's a joke! Who needs it?!

Now take


(NOK) - Get Report


Pekka Ala-Pietila

, who spoke immediately after Briggs. Here's a guy whose company has pushed the ballooning ranks of mobile-phone users, whose company has a third of its staff involved in R&D. He's got six different mobile-phone-sized terminals, which will help wireless Internet usage surpass access from PCs by 2003, according to Nokia.

What lies ahead? Nokia is working on mobile phones with videoconferencing and other outlandish applications, "some of which we have a hint of, some we don't even understand today," he said.

That's quite a contrast to MCI WorldCom.

Ala-Pietila promised continuously connected wireless Internet service and speedier, 11-megabits-per-second service in the midterm. "We have to think, 'How do we make sure we understand the underlying needs of users, when they don't have the language available to describe what they need?'" he says. "We can't sell services that are counterintuitive and aren't natural."

Briggs was more concerned -- and rightly so -- with the fact that 63% of his cost on voice traffic and 43% of his data costs go into the sweaty palms of the regional bell operating companies. Maybe that's his problem.

Here's hoping for a more Nokia attitude, for our sakes.

Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She breathlessly awaits your feedback at