Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An open letter to Centurylink

Dear Centurylink,

I got your statement a few days ago and I now see that the "discount" has expired. We know what this means, don't we? Why, it's customer service time! This is where I call your customer service department to fulfill your vain hope that one of your customer service reps can upsell me to something more. I know this because it happens on a periodic basis with both you and Comcast.

Sorry, I got an antenna and now I can watch my local news for the weather because that's all I really care about on broadcast TV. We can watch PBS, too. I really hate getting a TV subscription and having the feeling that I'm obligated to watch it to justify the expense. So between us, there is only internet service and that's it. That's all I want from you until I can get it from someone else. For entertainment I'll watch Netflix and YouTube for now because that's enough.

The Discount Cycle is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and pretend to offer great customer service in a competitive market. But there is only one wireline ISP here, and that's you. All others require line of sight with radio transmission. You operate in a de facto monopoly, not a competitive market and that makes me a price taker. There really isn't any negotiation here since there is no competition.

It seems to me that you have a great agreement going with Comcast. Comcast cedes this territory to you while you cede some other territory to them. I guess that's what you call "competition".

Then there is Utopia. You know, that community broadband service you decided to hobble through your proxy, the legislature? In 2001, you used your corporate money to ram through a bill preventing Utopia from selling direct and from expanding service outside it's original service area.

In recent years, you used your corporate money to lobby against a possible agreement between Macquarie and the remaining Utopia cities to finance the roll-out of fiber to every address within their respective cities. Your argument? "Government shouldn't be in the ISP business". You even got the Utah Taxpayers Association to play along and act like they're protecting the taxpayer.  You did this despite the overwhelming evidence against you.

Take Spanish Fork as an example. They get to sell direct. They've paid off their debts, redirected their profits to build fiber and have every intention of offering world class service to the citizens they serve. They delivered. They came into existence because absentee ownership gives you the option of providing better service or not. You have plenty of other more lucrative markets to play with.

Contrast that with the fate of iProvo. iProvo had to resell through third parties and eventually, the city sold off their network to Google Fiber for a dollar. They're still paying off that debt, too. Ahhh, but to you those are just rewards, right?

Even where Utopia is present, I see that they have happy customers. I've talked to people who have it for their homes and their businesses and they really love Utopia. Utopia is now offering gigabit service for about $70 a month. And yet, you and your proxies will not relent on your useless politics against community broadband.

So I'll play your game. I'll call to negotiate for a discount. I'll ask why my neighbor can get 40mbs and I'm stuck with 20mbs. I'll ask if he got the sweet deal because he signed up for your TV service, PRISM. I'll ask if that's fair. But I will always know that I'm a price taker because you get so much assistance from the government. I'll always consider the possibility that you have an unspoken agreement with Comcast not to compete in my neighbor. I will never consider you a "private enterprise" because of all that assistance from the government.

No matter. I'm biding my time. Google Fiber is coming to town. Utopia is adding more customers and building a bigger customer base, one customer at a time. We might eventually see an agreement with Macqarie in West Valley City. Someday, I'll have world class service and be free of Centurylink and Comcast.

Forever.

But I will always know that the reason there is only one wired ISP at my address is because that is exactly the way you want it. How else could your CEO afford a third home on the coast of Spain?
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