Friday, May 03, 2013

Waiting in line at Comcast

Yesterday, I returned equipment to Comcast to cancel my service with them and settle for "broadband" service from Centurylink. Centurylink offers no more than 5mbs per second here at my home. But for $41 a month, I get both data and phone service. That compares favorably against Comcast which wanted $74 for the bundle of data at 20mbs and phone, and that was with a promotion that would eventually bring the total up to more than $90 a month. When the promotion ends, the total with tax for just phone and data service with Comcast would come out to more than $100.

Centurylink, as you may recall, used to be Qwest, a company that filed a notorious lawsuit to stall UTOPIA before it could reach much farther. UTOPIA is a municipal broadband service that, due to Qwest's lawsuit, stopped building their network about one and half blocks away from my home.

Comcast likes to talk about competition and how they're so much better. In my neighborhood, 5mbs is the max that the competition can offer at this time. Comcast owns the market above that speed. This is a reflection of an almost complete lack of competition, which suits Comcast executives well, since they need a captured market to finance a summer home in Spain for the CEO.

I remember when I was a young man during the Reagan administration. We used to laugh at the long lines that the Russians had to endure in the USSR. We used to laugh at how inefficient they were. We're not laughing anymore. The major ISPs really suck in terms of customer service and efficiency. Doesn't it seem strange that year after year, communications technology gets faster and cheaper, yet, the rates never go down?

I can remember the scene well as I took the modem and power cord back to Comcast at their service center. When I entered the office, there were 3 people servicing customers waiting in a long line. As the time approached noon, did they add more staff to the counter to service customers for lunch hour? No. One woman closed her window and a few minutes later, I saw her walking out to her car - for lunch.

The line remained and moved slower. I waited about 20 minutes to get to a customer service representative just to say, "Hi, here's your equipment. I'm canceling my subscription to your service." How efficient is that?

For all the talk about how we have a free market in the United States, when it comes to Internet access, we are far from it. Comcast dominates the market here and their sidekick, Centurylink is just along for the ride. Both of them play tag team bashing municipal broadband in the courts and in the press, and they seem very sure that internet access is a luxury. Luckily for them, they have the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working as a mouthpiece to stifle the adoption of municipal broadband.

Internet might have been a luxury in the past, but times have changed. Most people are loathe to cancel internet access and will find almost any other alternative to cutting the cord. Internet access has replaced the telephone as the must have utility.

I think we are far beyond the point where the Internet is just a data service and a novelty for entertainment. The Internet is now being used for work, job hunting, education and entertainment, with a thousand other uses we haven't the room to mention here.

Comcast has an interesting pricing strategy. As speeds increase, set up service tiers so that the price remains the same, but speeds go up in response to encroaching competition. Remove lower price tiers and make the lowest tier so unbearably slow or expensive that it just seems more reasonable to order the higher speed. It's worth it right?

Here's what I'm talking about. For $50 a month, Comcast offers 6mbs. After a day at 4mbs, I can tell you that Gmail, Pandora and Blogger all load pretty slow at that speed. Once they load, they're OK. Well, Blogger had an error saving this blog more than once. At 25mbs, you wouldn't know how bloated the modern website has become. But at 3mbs, Comcast can be sure that customers will opt for higher speeds.

I use the term "bloated" lightly here. The capabilities of websites is far beyond what we could do in the 1990s. From multimedia to statistical analysis to education, the browser has become home to the modern application. Who needs to buy software as a box with a CD in it? The browser does it all. But the connection speed must be fast to do it. What are we giving up when we let private ISPs dictate speed?

One thing for sure though, Comcast would not deliver more than 10mbs without Utopia in the neighborhood. Same with Centurylink. When Utopia gets here, I'm signing up. With them, I can get 100mbs for $45 a month at Sumo Fiber. Comcast will sell that speed to us for $114 a month (this used to be $200 a month - Utopia must be getting closer). Why is Comcast so much more expensive? They have no competition and they really need that summer home in Spain for the CEO.
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