Getting bilked over internet access is disconcerting and disconnecting

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Pat Grime copy.jpg

The Long View

It is popular in some circles to worship “the marketplace,” where unfettered capitalism provides the best means for a consumer society to receive goods and services. But this is not true: a free market without some restraint is not good for industry or consumers.

Take, for instance, internet access. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, citizens of the United States suffer in both the broadband service they receive and the price they pay for it.

The Long View

It is popular in some circles to worship “the marketplace,” where unfettered capitalism provides the best means for a consumer society to receive goods and services. But this is not true: a free market without some restraint is not good for industry or consumers.

Take, for instance, internet access. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, citizens of the United States suffer in both the broadband service they receive and the price they pay for it.

For high speed broadband, American consumers comparatively spend the most money for slower service. A consolidation toward monopoly and dearth of government backbone to help regulate this service, as important as any public utility, have allowed a very few companies to grow rich while providing, at best, a middling product.

Thus, in internet access/ cost comparisons, the U.S. ranks lower than South Korea, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Japan, Estonia, the United Kingdom, France, Slovenia, and Canada. Netizens of South Korean average twice the number of megabits per second while paying about 5 times less.

Of course, many other countries have rules limiting what Internet service providers can charge while encouraging those providers to improve their offerings. Here in the e pluribus unum, our legislators praise internet access as an essential tool for businesses and individuals to compete in today's world, but happily count the cash lavished on them by telecommunications industry lobbyists.

My current ISP, Comcast, wants to merge with another industry giant, Time Warner. Given the fact that Comcast's offerings are already overpriced, I doubt taking over a major competitor will result in greater value for consumers.

There are two other providers available in my area. Unfortunately, I have used both of them over the years. Company A is just as poorly priced and Company B cannot deliver optimal service as it is forced to use the substandard infrastructure leased to it by Company A.

My special, temporary rate for internet access recently expired. When the bill with a larger, non-introductory amount came due, I phoned Comcast's Customer Loyalty department. They agreed to temporarily reduce the 50-percent increase to only 33 percent. And the next bill included a “service change” fee.

The billing department explained the new charge was incurred by reducing what I paid. At my insistence, they agreed to cancel the service change fee “this time.” 

Make no mistake, they tried to take that money simply because no one is around to offer a better deal. And if I did not own a modem and router, Comcast would add an indefensible monthly fee to use theirs. And if I took the TV deal they keep begging me to purchase, they’d gladly tack on charges for early termination, HD Technology, broadcast TV, digital preferred, DVR service, and additional outlets.

Less competition in Internet access will serve only company investors. Rates and fees will rise while service suffers, simply because there’ll be no one else to take our business to. How is that for free-market magic?

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com.