A Reminder of Why Monopolies Are a Bad Thing
It is impossible to imagine how anyone in the greater
I marvel at the fact that Northern Virginia, a region that supposedly prides itself as “business friendly” (or did, at least until a few years ago) is set up in such a way that county councils have choked off competition in the communications industry, with each county granting an exclusive monopoly to a cable company of their choice (how these companies have been selected is best shut out of the imagination).
Still, it really mystifies me. When we lived north of the Potomac River in
Alas, the same cannot be said of broadband Internet service, most certainly not here in
Two things should be obvious by now. First, monopolies are not only bad for both the customer and the provider (lack of competition stifles a firm’s innovative capacity and takes away the ability to grow by becoming more efficient), but are unnecessary as well. There is no demonstrable reason why two competing firms, even in such sectors as utilities and telecommunications cannot compete within the same local markets like any other business. Second, government, even a local one, has proved yet again (as if we needed any more) that it cannot regulate businesses any better than it can regulate or manage anything else.
What makes our own situation so deplorable is that the outage affects only our house and five others in our row, not the entire neighborhood or district. Thus the monopoly provider has even less motivation to rectify the deficiency and solve the problem in a timely manner. Indeed, they make it clear that you are not a priority at all, knowing that if you value access to broadband Internet service (or electric power, or water, or any other product of service the monopoly provides), you will put up and shut up. The Cox technician who arrived at the house yesterday afternoon (a technician being available on a Sunday was a jaw-dropping surprise, by the way) to further investigate the problem acted as if he would have rather been in the emergency room being treated for a severed artery without anesthetic than be at my house solving my problem. Although I had told Cox customer service on four separate occasions that the problem involved their own modems at the central switching point, they insisted on sending someone out to look at my cable modem. So what happened? The technician spent all of sixty seconds testing the main coax cable which, as I warned him it would be, was as dead as George W. Bush’s brain. He then walked outside and down the sidewalk to look at the main switching box, which –surprise!—was in just the condition I told him it would be (“Oh, I guess you’re a network engineer and know this stuff already,” this Mensa member mumbled). Thus a technician wasted an hour of his billable time on a problem that the central service desk should have warned both of us about.
Oh, and I won’t get started on Cox’s refusal to admit that their workers were out last Tuesday digging up the ground and tearing out cable, the very thing that caused the outage in the first place. That’s for a whole other rant.
So what’s next? Well, since the account is in my daughter’s name, she tells me that she is going to call Cox’s regional customer service center at least once per day for the next week, more often if she doesn’t get satisfactory answers on what’s being done to fix the problem. If by next Sunday the problem is not fixed, I’m going to be forced to do something I would definitely prefer to avoid because it involves government; that is, file a complaint with the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission. On the plus side, our good family friend who currently boards with us and who is a Verizon network engineer says that he knows the man in charge of telecom regulation for
Any thoughts out there from those who’ve been in a similar situation?