It’s clear that the fallout from Worldcom Inc.’s recent accounting improprieties will have a depressing effect on the North American telecom market. An industry that was already feeling the effects of a boom-time hangover has been hit with news that one of its key players is involved in what could turn out to be the world’s largest-ever fraud case. Not a pretty picture.
What is also clear is that the longest-lasting effect of the debacle will not be in the area of pure telecom issues, such as building networks or offering services. The telecom sector will eventually rebound despite the news of WorldCom’s woes – no doubt a little later than even the most optimistic pundits have been predicting.
It appears that the biggest effect the scandal will have will be in the area of how we perceive corporate leaders, ones representing not only the telecom industry, but those who form the upper crust of all sectors. As giants in various markets, from Enron to WorldCom, begin to fall one after the other, it will hopefully only be a matter of time before enough average joes begin to grow angry and demand more accountability from these leaders.
What that will take is a mass realization of the indirect effects such turmoil has on that hard-working, average stiff. When a major player such as WorldCom reveals that it has been about as dishonest as a corporation can get, Wall and Bay Streets take notice. Uncertainty reigns (witness the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 109.86 points by midday the day after the news broke), and when it sticks around long enough, consumer confidence takes a hit and recessions loom. It becomes tougher to buy a house, a car, or to keep a job.
Because there are so many degrees of separation between that end result and the late-night number-fudging in the WorldCom accounting department’s offices, it’s easy to miss the correlation. But it’s there, and with the public’s access to information – to the truth of what’s actually going on behind closed doors – through the Internet and a few quality all-news media outlets continually on the rise, perhaps the demands for corporate reform will grow louder.
When you get right down to it, the term private sector is, in many ways, a misnomer. Its “private” activities often have a very public effect. Citizens will hopefully begin to ask for more from the influencers that lead the private realm, and also from their politicians when those influencers pull a WorldCom.
As we move on in the wake of WorldCom, telephones will continue to be bought and central offices will continue to hum. The telecom industry will soldier on. Whether its leaders act like the generals they should be, or like na