So we’re moving into a new apartment and given its past 1994, we want/need internet access. We called Time Warner. They gave us an appointment for Saturday, from 8 to 10. At 10:30, after sitting in the new and still empty apartment for 2.5 hours, I called. They told me the appointment was actually for Friday from 8 to 10. I noted politely that we wouldn’t have made the appointment for Friday from 8 to 10 for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that we hadn’t signed a lease then. I also noted that nobody called us to ask us why we weren’t there, which presumably would have been done had the appointment been the day earlier.
So they gave me another appointment – from 2 to 4. At 4:30 I called to ask if/when someone was coming. I was told to stick around. We finally left at five minutes to 6. Put another way, I waited five minutes shy of six hours for no reason at all. That’s six hours of my Saturday I’m not getting back.
Which got me to thinking about deregulation in the phone industry. Its been twelve years since the 1996 Telecom Act. I remember how it used to be when you wanted to get phone and internet service back in the day. I called the local phone company, got a two hour window, and someone showed up during that two hour window. Now, with deregulation, we have competition – now I can’t get phone and internet service not just from one but rather from two companies that won’t show up to provide me with that service. One company that provides the service, even if its a monopoly, beats two that do not in my book.
Now, before someone points out that the service is better now – internet is faster – well, technology advances. My guess is that the improvement in technology available to the consumer from 1984 to 1996 is more significant than the improvement from 1996 to 2008. (Anyone remember using a BBS?) And the improvements on the cell phone side of the business seem to come mostly on the manufactured hand-unit, which was never regulated because it isn’t a natural monopoly. The rest comes from the switch, and that isn’t manufactured by the former natural monopoly either.
So I thought a bit about deregulation, and realized its not just in the phone industry that service has gone to heck. How about them airlines? And I understand that there were a whole bunch of people waiting out front of IndyMac the other day. The fact is, in a lot of industries, deregulation has not lived up to expectations. Not for consumers, but not for the companies either. How many airlines went out of business in order to provide lousy service with a nickel-and-dime attitude today? How many phone companies? I’m sure its been a success story in some industries, but maybe it behooves us to think about how to do it so that it truly lives up to the many promises we heard.
And BTW, one more thing about Time Warner. We called to find out when we could another appointment. It seems the earliest they’ll be able to not show up again is July 27. I bet this isn’t how the National Review, the Weekly Standard, or the Wall Street Journal describe deregulation in the telecom indutstry.