July 22, 2011

Back to the 80s

Although I didn't vote for this particular video at Save the Internet.com as regards the possible AT&T/T-Mobile merger, it makes the point I can't imagine needs to be made again.

I lived through the 80s, when there was a telecommunications monopoly, when "Ma Bell" was the only option for telephone and long distance service. I also remember that when the Trust Division of the Department of Justice busted the monopoly, prices went down, particularly for long distance. No longer did family and friends "save up" to make the occasional phone call that actually didn't cost all that much, we could call throughout the country at competitive rates.

Obviously I'm against the merger, because anyone with a fraction of a brain realizes that the fewer companies in competition with each other, the higher the price consumers pay...well, except where Apple cuts in so they can screw with the competition all the while screwing the consumer. But because corporations now write our legislation and have thoroughly co-opted regulatory agencies, I think that the merger will likely go through, particularly now that AT&T has bought off progressive groups. But here's a couple of cautionary tales from my personal files...

1) Not long ago my daughter's cell phone died, and we needed to buy her a new one. She was not up for an upgrade, but Verizon had always worked with us in the past because we've been long-time customers and sent business their way. Well, the times they have changed. Forget that there's no longer actual tech support at their company store; I already knew that. But nobody was willing to help me out when we went in to buy her a new phone. Even though they'd just locked us in to another two years service for her a few months ago, we ended up shelling out full price on a phone that would have cost a new customer a fraction of the price. Why? Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Verizon, AT&T, and t-Mobile together control the vast majority of the mobile phone market. A few years ago, when we did quite a few deals with Verizon, it was a different picture. So now, higher prices, less customer assistance...how great is that?

2) We've long been users of DSL; Southwestern Bell, which at one time was part of AT&T, and is once again part of AT&T (funny that, no?) and we live in a major metropolitan area. And yet, for the entire period of time we've had DSL, our service has sucked. Why? Because "we're at the edge" of a service area. For the same period of time we've heard that SWB/AT&T is "upgrading in our area," yet it's never happened. How do I know this? Well, yesterday, after trying to watch yet another buffered video (about the Dale Chihuly installation at the MFA in Boston), I called tech support. I was told: "Your DSL is as fast as it's going to be because you're at the edge of a service area, but we're upgrading in your area." If we lived in the boonies, this would make sense, but we don't.

Think about what the telecom companies have done: They charge tremendous amounts for basic cell service...much higher than you pay for a land line...for diminished quality, and the possibility of brain cancer. Does it really cost them as much as it does to provide service? Well, we know that text messaging represents pure profit to wireless providers, and that's just one service for wireless users. The wireless bill for our three-person family now includes three data plans for three smart phones in addition to a special text fee for Rachael who, like her college pals, texts almost exclusively. I'm thinking Verizon makes a bloody fortune from us, and I can only be happy that we signed her up for a data plan when we a couple of months ago because now Verizon, like the other carriers, has set in place tiered usage fees. They're also trying to eliminate the ability of users like my husband to toggle his phone to his laptop to avoid yet another data plan. They sold us the phone with that as a major feature less than a year ago, yet now they want to reneg on it.

Ain't the lack of competition grand?


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