Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cablevision's continued incompetence

My cable signal went out (again) last night around 10 p.m., the second time in two weeks. I called and got yet another shit-for-brains kid who wouldn't know an RCA plug from RF. Except for one occasion (setting up my new digital cable box per confusing instructions partially translated from Mandarin), I have found Cablevision's "technicians" incompetent and unfriendly. For $130 a month, I expect to speak to someone who at least knows which way is up, not some script-reading tech noob (scroll down through this for a doozy of a story).

Since I got Cablevision's service in January 2001, I've had numerous temporary "service disruptions": wait 3-4 hours, and suddenly it'll be back by itself. Once in a while it was a longer outage. So I've largely stopped calling them and instead would wait 3-4 hours, but I did call last night. My cable modem and cable box weren't receiving signals, and I sensed it was another neighborhood outage. The tech insisted I go through "troubleshooting procedures" on my cable box, and I told him point-blank, "I'm not going to waste my time fucking around back there." What good would it do to troubleshoot my cable box, like all the other times I sighed and complied when I had the same problem and bothered to call, when my cable modem showed it was a signal problem?

Then he asked me if I wanted a service call, but with the caveat that if it could have been resolved by troubleshooting, I'd get charged. First, I said I was tired of them "threatening me" with a service charge when it's always been their fault (including a staple driven through the coax by the installing technician). I also pointed out my previous histories of neighborhood outages and temporary ones that suddenly spring back. Then of all the stupidest things to say, he said, "So you're refusing a technician to come out." "Refusing?" I corrected. "Refusing would be if sending out a field tech would actually do some good. I am declining because it's pointless."

But the most boneheaded thing he did was directly accusing me of blaming them, excusing their accidental neighborhood outages because "That's not our problem." Not their problem? When I, the customer, am not getting a service that I've paid for, how is it not their problem? It might not be their fault, but it sure as hell is their problem to restore my service as fast as possible.

Rodrigo, whatever the hell his name was, could be some 19-year-old making $8 an hour for all I know and care. Well, I myself started out as a PC support phone, but the difference is that I was competent, and this kid has a lot to learn about simple logic. I couldn't begin to count how often I sought authorization from a "senior tech" to have an obviously defective part replaced, and the first thing the putz would ask was, "Did you boot to A:"? "No, you idiot, I didn't, and there's nothing that booting to A: is going to do for this hard drive!"

But Cablevision has no incentive to provide good service to retain customers. Government has given it a monopoly in my area, and similar monopolies to Comcast, TimeWarner and other cable companies in their respective regions -- just like the Crown used to grant charters giving a company exclusive "rights" to a business. All the resulting lack of competition does is screw over consumers. Satellite is hardly competition; it's merely an alternative. If other cable companies could start up, who cares if it's "market chaos"? Free commerce eventually sorts itself, and quite nicely without any need for government's "help." Cablevision would either learn to provide reliable service and decent phone support, or die out.


Blogger Robert D Feinman said...

OK, Cablevision is a local monopoly, we agree. Whose fault is this? You would probably say government for granting the monopoly. But why did it grant the monopoly?
Some choices:
1. They considered cable the type of service where having only one provider should be allowed to prevent "inefficiency". This is the reason given for having only one water or electric company (at least it used to be). There was a time when such "natural monopolies" were not encouraged. This led to utilities running parallel wires down the same poles and also prevented interconnects between phone companies. Neither choice is ideal.
2. They were persuaded to allow a local monopoly because of bribes of key officials. These bribes didn't have to be in cash as we see been revealed daily. There are many ways of supplying paybacks for favorable legislation. Does this mean that government shouldn't exist or that it is just working poorly?

Notice that the ideal of capitalism is to achieve a monopoly or at least an oligopoly. Firms don't complain about "government regulation" when it benefits them. None of them really want a "level playing field". They want it tilted in their favor. Capitalism is not a gentleman's game.

So, how would you suggest fixing the situation? Allow multiple cable companies to each service an area? Allow competitive bidding for the exclusive regional license (this is what most localities did originally)? Control the charges that the cable company makes as a regulated utility?

In addition to your local cable you have the choice of two satellite systems and soon you will have Verizon providing TV and internet over fiber. What more would you like to see?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 7:36:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

"Notice that the ideal of capitalism is to achieve a monopoly or at least an oligopoly. Firms don't complain about "government regulation" when it benefits them. None of them really want a "level playing field". They want it tilted in their favor. Capitalism is not a gentleman's game."

Not true. Government interference is not a part of capitalism or a true free market. Those of us who do believe in the free market want government to butt out of the economy. Period. And the establishment of a monopoly is almost impossible in a true free market, more so in today's decentralized society/economy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 9:19:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Actually, Mike, a monopoly can result only from government protection. I used to think it's difficult, but still possible, for a company to achieve a monopoly without government. It's impossible, though, because unless you compete better to quash the competition, you need government to protect you.

Well, once again, little Bobbie doesn't know Jack Schitt about what he's talking about. Capitalism isn't about achieving a monopoly: it's about being the most competitive so you can sell as much of your product as you can, maximizing your revenue. Whether a business is dominant is in fact irrelevant. Unless it's protected by government, a business must always be competitive. In the end, that's great for the consumer.

Bobby is under the delusion that businesses don't like the free market. Nothing could be further from reality. Is it so strange that Microsoft, the most profitable firm in the world, is the one most attacked by governments? It's dominant but hardly a monopoly, because so many alternatives abound. And it's dominant despite the attacks, i.e. hindrances of the free market, from all the dozens of different governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

Microsoft would love nothing better than a pure free market, which IS a level playing field. Do I insist that the NBA allow me to play, but that "to even the playing field" I get a chair by the basket so I can do a slam-dunk, and I score five points for every basket while other players still get two? Do I ask for 50 strokes whacked off my round so that I can compete against Tiger Woods? Hell no! The free market is all about real competition, based on your innate abilities: if you can't do something as well as a competitor, then that's too bad for you.

On the other hand, American Airlines, one of the most unprofitable firms in the world, continually seeks government protection. It's firms who cannot compete that want government protection. The firms who compete best, i.e. beat the competition, are the ones who are content with how the free market works.

So, Bobby, you believe government should have the power to decide what is "efficient" for us. Just how damn boneheaded are you, guy? Remember that part about how government can't be any better than the imperfect people it comes from? And so who the hell are you and others of the "majority" to decide who decides what cable service is best for us?

I don't know what world you live in, but for thousands of years of civilization, people have done quite well to decide what is most "efficient" by patronizing the business they like best. We've never needed government to tell us that, but you liberals are just so stupid that evidently you can't make choices yourself. Hey, that's fine with me, but you don't need to project your stupidity on me by forcing me into your decisions.

Should I even bother to point out your deficiency of logic, because you believe having just one of something could possibly be more efficient? Did you even understand what I was saying, or are your eyes that glazed over from the Marxist toke? One more time: when a business is granted a monopoly by government, it has no incentive whatsoever to provide good service, simply because it has no competitors. That's it.

Your examples of allegedly superfluous infrastructures are laughable at best. Telegraph companies laid their own wires, but at one point, one company would offer to lease wires from another. If you offer him enough, your most fearsome competitor won't mind losing a bit of business. Now, telephones developed far differently, because it was the Bell system that developed nearly all the infrastructure on its own, setting the standard in a similar way that Microsoft set standards for PCs though its Windows "monopoly." AT&T is typically accused of having been a "monopoly" but in fact was not; it was merely dominant. After all, monopolies result only from government protection, so how could it have been a monopoly when government was seeking to break it?

You just need to expand your thinking a bit. Let's say I used X for my telephone service, but it wouldn't connect with my friend's Y service. At some point, with enough demand to justify the costs, X and Y would make a deal and connect their services. If you think it's impossible for capitalists to collaborate when it's cheaper than duplicating infrastructure, then what do you think is happening with instant messaging?

At least you point out the truth, that cable companies worm their way into elected officials to receive their monopolies. In economics, we call that "rent-seeking." But do you not remember what Lord Acton warned about power and absolute power? Clearly not: you don't seem to realize that corruption happens every time government interferes in commerce. Cable companies, construction unions that get paid bonuses for late work, and even sports teams that lobby cities to build them stadiums. The only solution is to allow people to pay for the services they want from those who are willing to provide them, based on terms that they and they alone agree upon.

Bidding for a government contract is just another form of rent-seeking, and didn't you ever hear of the shortages that Nixon's price controls caused? Price controls do nothing but keep higher-priced businesses out of the market, even though I want their business at those higher prices. Why do you insist on protecting me from myself, when if something is too expensive in my opinion, I just won't buy it? Why not let me have the option of another cable company, who would lay out its own wires and likely charge me more because of that, who I'd be willing to pay more because they're more reliable?

Satellite sucks. 'Nuff said. And I won't hold my breath for Verizon's service, which will probably prove as shitty as their other services. My personal choice is cable, but no other company in my area is authorized by government to provide it.

It again boils down to the fact that you socialists want to decide for everyone else, just like Bastiat said. You want to play God, or at least elect who plays God.

Stick around, Bobby. You need the education.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 11:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Shamus said...

I strongly suspect that this is a capacity problem. A system gets too big too fast, and the people on the phones are employed to deflect incoming requests for customer service rather than provide it.

Back in the 90's I envied people in Boston, NY, and southern CA because they had access to cable internet, but living in the primitive amish wastelands of western PA I could not get high-speed 'net access at any price.

Eventually the service came to my area around the year 2000 or so. It seems like they built their infrastructure with an eye to the future, although the low-tech nature of this area means that usage hasn't grown very fast. So, they have more power than they need to meet demand. My service is smooth and Armstrong cable has nice people at the phones on the rare occasions when I do need help. At the same time, it seems like cable companies are busting at the seams in early-adopter areas.

I'm wondering now if we're just seeing phases of development. Maybe in five years my service will suck, while service in NY will (one would HOPE) have evolved or at least increased capacity.

I'm much too young to remember the rise of telephones, but it would be interesting to compare the two systems and how they evolved.

Friday, August 25, 2006 3:03:00 AM  
Blogger Ernest said...

Umm, Perry, actually big corporations -like- anti-trust so long as it serves to raise the entry costs into their business fields.

Monday, September 04, 2006 2:59:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

You came in pretty late, Ernest.

A company will not inherently like or dislike anti-trust. A company likes or dislikes it depending how it's affected. However, it's the far more common scenario that an uncompetitive company will (ab)use anti-trust laws to attack a dominant, entrenched one. For example, Microsoft doesn't like anti-trust because it's been the victim for many years now. Netscape loved anti-trust because it couldn't market its shitty browser.

Thursday, July 19, 2007 11:04:00 PM  

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