How to lose customers: when

How to lose customers: when faced with customers that have cash-in-hand, force unnecessary delays on them.

A couple months ago, we rented a house and moved in. The previous resident was the owner (my brother-in-law) and had cable and DSL service. The day before move-in, I called PacBell to convert over the phone and DSL service into our names. After a 20 minute call, I was informed a new phone number would be working at the place within 2 hours. DSL, however, would take a minimum of two weeks to be activated. Now, I may be biased because it is my profession, but why can’t other vital services at the phone company be turned on and off with the flick of a switch like a phone line? I didn’t want to go with PacBell for DSL service, but since they wired up the old place and I still had the equipment hooked to the wall, I figured it’d be faster than asking an outside provider to provision a new DSL line. Not so, and I ended up waiting about 15 days before DSL service was fully functioning.

Thursday I came home to find an ominous message hanging from the front door. AT&T cable had been checking the neighborhood, and noticed we were getting free cable, which they promptly shut off. The next morning I called to inquire how much it’d be to turn it back on, since it was working 12 hours previous. Instead of a flick of a switch, AT&T said it would be a minimum of two weeks to send someone out to physically do something on the side of the house to get the analog cable lines going again. When a possible install date was discussed, I noticed it was after the first games of the world cup, which would be a major problem in our home. They said there was nothing I could do, so I decided to look elsewhere.

When I lived in LA a few years ago, the neighborhood offered cable tv from three different companies. You could pick the best lineup or the best price, and go with them. Not so in the bay area, as AT&T has a lock on the market, charging $38 monthly for analog cable with 60 channels or so, and $48 monthly for digital cable for a hundred or so channels. I recall spending under $30 a month for cable just a few years ago in LA, but I guess that’s why monopolies are good for business. My only other option was a satellite system, and since we live in a house, it’s not that big of a deal to bolt a small dish onto the roof. After talking to Andre, I decided to look for a Tivo/DSS system like he had, and eventually I found an online retailer offering the entire setup with a new directv subscription for under a hundred bucks. Circuit City used to sell them, but TiVo setup an exclusive deal with BestBuy, who didn’t offer the satellite system any longer. Directv is pretty much the only satellite player, as they bought their rival a few years back.

This experience has taught me not only that I’m impatient when it comes to necessary services like internet access and tv, but that monopolies are everywhere, and I’ve merely traded one cable monopoly for a satellite one. The days of true consumer choice seem to be behind us as merger mania continues.