Opinion » Cybernaut


Globalism vs. high tech



Walking through the village during the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival (TWSSF) was an incredibly positive experience, with lots of big name companies stepping up in open defiance of the worst global recession in decades. At a time when companies are scaling back, laying off, or otherwise struggling for survival it was an optimistic display.

There were, however, a few troubling reminders that the world order is changing right before our eyes.

For example, Pontiac was a major sponsor and exhibitor even as rumours were circulating about the automaker's demise. Those rumours were confirmed by parent company General Motors on the last day of the festival, with plans to phase out the Pontiac brand by the end of 2010.

That decision is a sad one for many reasons, not least the amount of support that Pontiac GMC has provided to Canada's alpine skiers over the years as a sponsor of the national team, national championships, and the Pontiac GMC Cup national race series.

Another TWSSF sponsor in crisis was Sirius XM satellite radio. Back in February the company was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy protection, the result of carrying too much debt into the recession.

Sirius and XM were separate companies at one point, but merged in mid-2008 when it became obvious that competition was creating a race to the bottom. The cost of launching communications satellites and developing receivers was huge from the outset, and the company is having difficulty financing debt while they build their subscriber base. At the time of the merger the two companies had more than 18 million subscribers across North America.

Still, a lot of people still aren't willing to pay an annual rate ($164.89 in Canada plus a $19.99 hookup fee) for satellite radio services, and some auto manufacturers haven't supported the technology as an option as much as Sirius XM hoped. Now, with rumours of bankruptcy hovering over the company, potential subscribers are no doubt wondering whether it's worth the risk to buy in.

I personally hope this service pulls through. I had a chance to demo a satellite radio for a week a few years ago, and I was blown away by the quality of sound and the amount of content available. If I spent more time driving or commuting I would probably own my own receiver by now.

All of this underlines how the global recession is undercutting high tech. We're not moving backwards exactly, and may actually move forwards in a few areas related to green energy, but I can't help thinking about how the globalization of the economy is making things tougher for innovators.