By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Frank Owen
This is you: You pay a company to beam you an invisible signal from outer space or pump a stream of electrons through a wire in your wall so that crisp images show up on your television.
You pay a second company, meanwhile, to beam another set of signals from steel towers placed around town that are, in some cases, camouflaged to look like half-assed palm trees so that you can carry on conversations on your cell phone. Move too far away from the towers, though, and your phone doesn't work so well.
And you pay a third company to send yet another phantom stream of electrical signals into your home so that Internet web pages show up on your laptop computer. But take your laptop more than about 50 feet outside your house and this signal craps out. Which is why you find yourself drinking inordinate amounts of foamy hot beverages so that you can leave your house and still use your computer in the bubble of Internet connectivity that surrounds the coffee shop at the mall.
OK, you three-company-paying, signal-craving tech bitch, now imagine this brave new world:
You're on the road, maybe speeding past swampland on Alligator Alley or crossing the godforsaken Oklahoma Panhandle or winding your way across the Continental Divide on a remote mountain road miles from the nearest speck of a town and suddenly, you get a can't-shake-it need to plug in.
Maybe you have an uncontrollable urge to see what comments have come in after your latest ranting blog entry. Or you're certain your Match.com profile has a couple of dating offers waiting. Or maybe it's just the time of day you normally check TMZ to see Britney's latest bad wardrobe choice.
Whatever the reason, you need your Internet fix, and you can't wait for a Starbucks with a wi-fi hot spot to appear out of the swamp or prairie or pine forest.
So you pull to the side of the road and pop open your laptop, coaxing it back to life.
And BAM! you are online and blazing at high speed, uploading and downloading bulky files like you were hooked up to a T3 connection in a big-city office.
Is that drool on your lip? Wait, it gets better.
With your Internet connection humming, you notice the boyfriend has e-mailed, asking you to call. So out comes the mobile phone. You flip it open and notice that even out here, miles and miles from anything, the signal on your phone is going full blast at five bars of bursting connectivity. In an instant, you're talking to your guy like he's only five feet away. In fact, the sound is so good, you can hear in the background the movie playing on the big-screen TV that he's been watching on the high-definition signal back at the homestead.
So there you have it. One company, one monthly payment, one massive signal delivering all of your electronic needs. There's cell phone coverage coast to coast, including in the remotest of areas. There's a blazing Internet hot spot the size of the entire ever-loving country. You even get that HD signal that's playing back home.
And all of it is courtesy of a high-flying aerial circus, a telecom network built around lighter-than-air platforms hovering at the edge of space, blanketing the nation with an orgy of connectivity and crisp video streams.
Yes, caffeine fiend, it's a lovely dream, a hypnotic dream. And it's important to keep in mind the seductive power of that dream if you want to understand why, for several years, it has lured millions of dollars from the pockets of small investors into the coffers of a Broward County company that promises, some day, that tech utopia.
Retirees with money to burn, college kids playing the stocks from their dorm rooms, average folks with a little extra cash, all hoping to get in on the Next Big Thing before it blows up. The dream is a powerful one.
And it's all built on hot air.
The technical term for the fleet of 300 floating gasbags it envisions lofting in a grid into the near-space environment of the stratosphere, 13 miles above the surface of the Earth, is high-altitude airships.
And if that's a bit dry, GlobeTel has a sexier name. It calls its not-blimps stratellites.
Get it? STRATosphere saTELLITES. The mashed-up name has a nice NASA-like ring to it that evokes rocket boosters and zero-g gyroscopes. Now, go to the company's website (www.globetel.net) and take a look at a photo of one. We know what you're thinking: Paint Snoopy on the side of that thing and you'd expect to see it floating over the Orange Bowl.
OK, so maybe dirigibles have come a long way since the Hindenburg. Engineers have new space-age materials to wrap around lightweight airship skeletons. Novel technologies make it possible for a lighter-than-air craft to float higher, stay up longer, and be operated remotely. Is it so hard to imagine a squadron of unmanned balloons hovering over the continental United States at an altitude of 65,000 feet, beaming back hi-def reruns of Heroes and blanketing the nation in a warm bubble of next-generation wi-fi coverage?