A life less wired: could I hack it?

January 5, 2007

This week in my apartment has felt like a lesson in elementary free market capitalism. What happens when there is a monopoly? Nothing good. I can now vouch for this, having been in the midst of a complete cable AND Internet service failure since returning from our New Year’s sojourn in Miami. What’s exceptional about this is the “AND.” Ever since moving to the current apartment, our Internet connection has been spotty. We have spent up to a week at a time mooching off some neighbor’s unsecure wireless because ours was completely non-functional (and this was in a year w/ no hurricanes) and not a single month has gone by without at least two service calls. And that is time out of my life that I’m never getting back, even if they do give me a measly 3 dollar a day credit on my bill. Lack of our own Internet is nothing new, but never before has our beloved cable desserted us for so long. We turn on the television and the screen goes black. Not even the clock part on the box works. For the first day, we didn’t panic. We ate breakfast sans our usual flipping between CNN and MSNBC and assumed service would be restored by the time we got home. It wasn’t, so D called Adelphia (soon to be Comcast–the names of the guilty shall not be protected–too bad I don’t host this blog myself so I could code “Adelphia Sucks!” a bazillion times into the XML so that every Googler could see my rant) and proceeded to spend about an hour on the phone doing the usual unplug and reset song and dance to no avail. This is where it started to get hairy. Instead of apologizing for their crappy ass service, they told him that from their side it looked like everything was fine so it was probably a problem on our side. So both my television and the cable modem that I rent from Adelphia are broken? Wrong. They said we should set up an appointment to have one of their (in my experience useless) dudes come and look at it. Of course, this means committing to sitting in your house for a period of four hours during which the dude can come at any time. The only four hours of my day in which this is a mildly palatable activity are the four hours after I get home from work, 6-10pm. Guess when they make appointments for? You can choose 8am to noon or 1pm to 5. This is the point at which my brain majorly malfunctions. I am paying you 100$ a month for the privilege of taking half a day of vacation time to wait for your technician? Presumably, the people who pay this type of bill work. During the day. AARGH! But even if I had felt desperate enough to rearrange my fairly flexible work schedule to agree to this, the earliest appointment they could offer was Sunday afternoon, when we are going to be in Miami anyway. Why on earth should I be the one to change my plans after waiting nearly a week to have my service restored? Because Adelphia/Comcast has a monopoly, that is why. They know there’s no one else to go to for cable service. After Sunday, the soonest they could offer was Thursday hence. The 11th of January. Ten days later. What part of this equation is the wrongest? The 100$ a month I pay for the privilege of being treated like garbage? Their complete non-interest in the fact that this represents atrocious service? Or perhaps the third-party guy at the “Customer Retention Center” they transferred us to who said we had to put up or shut up, and didn’t even offer to comp us a month? All parts of this equation are wrong, all of them are costing me time and money, and all of them make me feel powerless and unable to cope with adult life.

As you can imagine, the hot-headed, easily victimized person that is me does not take this kind of we have all the power and you have none abuse lightly. In fact, I take it quite heavily, in the form of much cursing and threatening. We were already thinking about cutting back to just Internet service anyway, in light of D’s grades last semester (one less means of procrastination  and avoiding necessary sleep) and the fact that it is damned expensive. Sadly enough, Internet alone would cost us almost as much, and why? Oh yes, beccause there is no competing service that offers just Internet. The other option is to call up BellSouth (soon to be AT&T, do you see a pattern here?) and get DSL, but for that privilege we will also have to purchase a landline, which we don’t want or need. I am thoroughly sick of being forced to pay for things I don’t want or need just because the company can make me. It seems, to my somewhat black and white sense of options, that I can either bend over and take one more from the state of Florida and its backwards ways or simply say no, no, and no…. and sit at home in the media darkness all by myself. Does it really work to live without cable and Internet? How will I know when the hurricanes are coming? Won’t I rip my hair out after just one week?

Theoretically, once AT&T takes over BellSouth, they have to offer stand alone DSL service as part of their agreement with the FTC. When that will happen no one seems to know.  So perhaps we can live without Internet at home just until then. Yet it occurs to me that in the climate of monopolies of services and hardware, there isn’t going to be any protection for us there either. When service outages occur, they are going to be equally unmotivated to fix it for us. Withdrawing from the world is the only sure fire way of preventing disappointment and frustration, but it is not a very happy solution and it tends to make one isolated and bitter. My strongest urge is to call up Adelphia and tell them to cancel my service right now, but if I get out of the game at this point will I ever get back in? Sometimes I feel I am already teeetering on the edge of complete paranoia and cynicism about the world of commerce–but that is kind of an extremist world view. What would a real grown-up do in this situation? Would a real grown-up persist in thinking of ten days worth of service outage as a cosmic showdown between the forces of good and evil and strike a blow for the forces of good by depriving her own self of Internet and cable? Would a real grown-up invest the saved 100$ a month in a high interest savings account or start thinking things like, well, that is a movie every weekend or three extra trips to the wine store? It has slowly occurred to me that there are different ways of looking at this.  In my head, it might The Man stomping on me with his jack boots, but it could also be just one of those annoying things that won’t really kill you, not even a little bit, or even make you broke. Despite my stubbornly idealistic tendencies, if I don’t want to spend my life sailing from ulcer to ulcer I had probably better just accept that life is mostly made up of these things and not made up mostly of transcendent moments of poetry and wine. Setting up a precedent of cutting all ties on the basis of one of these events might not be the healthiest longterm approach.

Still, as my fellow residents of this county with the fourth largest Jewish population in the US would join me in saying, oy gevalt!


One Response to “A life less wired: could I hack it?”

  1. D Says:

    Bellsouth e-mailed back with their best estimate as to when “naked” DSL service would be available in Boca Raton:

    “Dear Mr. Rodrigues,

    Thank you for your recent email regarding FastAccess DSL service without
    a phone line.

    AT&T is fully committed to complying with all merger conditions,
    including its commitment to make Standalone DSL available within 12
    months of the merger close date. Unfortunately, at this time, we are
    unable to give you a specific date when this service will be available
    in your area.

    You may call back at a later date to check back for more specifics or
    check http://www.ATT.com for more updates.”

    I appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.

    Thank you for choosing the new AT&T, now joined with BellSouth.


    Ms. M. Cranford
    Customer Service Agent”

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