Who cares about the so-called phone company monopolies? (Please take my poll)

Be patient; this sounds like a pit rant at first but I’m really looking for your humble opinions.

I have been seeing the anti-AT&T monopoly commercials on TV more and more lately, saying the usual things about how having three or four big telephone companies is so much worse for the consumer than having lots of little mom & pop independent telcos. Every time I see them, I have to chuckle and shake my head sadly. The reason I do this is because I spend the majority of my work day waiting on hold for a number of independent telcos to address some relatively minor problem in their network, or repair some minor (to me) facility trouble. Meanwhile there is a police station or medical clinic or branch of public schools that has been without fast packet data service for several days.

I personally find that the smaller independent telcos:

• Are much less customer service oriented. If I didn’t constantly bug them all day long, I believe they would never call us back within an acceptable time frame.

• Hire less capable technicians. I hold this view because I often have to guide their field techs through simple procedures like performing basic line testing.

• Use sub-standard test equipment that is incapable of performing the highly sophisticated testing that high speed data lines require.

Some of them aren’t even in service 24 hours a day! If there is a service outage in one of their regions at 2:00 in the morning, forget it. You’ll just have to wait until 9 o’clock when mom & pop come into the office.

I would estimate that I spend -no exaggeration- two thirds of my work day sitting on hold with sister sections of my company that are now considered “affiliates” because if we were still one big happy family, that would be a monopoly. Nevermind that I could get consumers back in service in hours instead of days, we need to introduce a bunch of new neighborhood telcos to increase competition, thereby ultimately reducing the cost of goods to the consumer by 50¢ or a dollar per month! Yep, that’s what consumers want!

My humble opinion is that, yes, monopolies can be bad for the consumer, but in certain instances where public utilities are involved (and consequently public safety is at stake), having one or two big companies run the show makes things work more smoothly (even if it does cost a little bit more).

So here’s the poll:

  1. Do you agree or disagree with my humble opinion in the previous paragraph?
  2. Do you know what the intent of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is? Do you even care?

The stated goal of the Act is

  1. Do you think that a public utility is a line of business that “anyone” should be able to enter?

  2. Choose between:

(a) Having a slightly smaller monthly phone (or cable) bill in exchange for service that is unreliable and takes days or weeks to repair*.

(b) Having a slightly higher bill in exchange for better customer service, and repairs that take an hour or two instead of a day or two.

I’m kind of hoping that this thread dies quickly, that’ll confirm my belief that nobody really cares about the monopoly “problem”, at least where the phone company is concerned.

I have Southwest Bell, and I’d trade it for Redneck Joe’s Teleophones R Us in a minute. It costs me $87.25 a month just to have a phone. That’s without a single outgoing call. My phone was shut off once, a month after having it. The first two customer service reps I talked to said that I was over my “long distance limit”. The third told me that she had no idea why my phone was shut off and would have it turned on right away. It took two days. A few months later, my phone was shut off because my payment had not been received on the due date, which happened to be the date that I received my monthly bill. It took 4 days to get reconnected. They gave us voice mail after that. But it took 45 minutes and being transferred to no less than 7 people to finally find somebody who could tell me how to access it. I have no other choice in phone companies in my location. It’s them or no phone. Many people in my area no longer have a phone, as they use a cell phone to save money. Who would have ever thought that possible? Monopolies do what they want because they can. Competition is what brings lower costs and better service from all involved.

I’ve got Verizon, and I’ll take that over Joe Schmoe Phone Co anytime, for most of the reasons stated in the OP. My rates have not increased unreasonably since the time not so long ago when the local phone company was Bell Atlantic. And the service has always been dependable, the bill schedule fair, and service has been acceptable. So far anyway. But I’m watching them.

Can I vote to go back to one big AT&T? If nothing else everyone will stop getting calls trying to get us to switch.

Put me down for the monopoly. ANYTHING to get rid of all those obnoxious phone ads on the idiot box.

Verizon??? You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t know about your branch but good god the one that we used at my old house absolutely frickin’ sucked. It costed about $100 just to have a phone, that doesn’t even include long distance bills! Not to mention when it went out it took forver to fix it. Now since we swithced to Affinity the phone bill is a whopping $10 a month. Yes that is long distance included in the bill.

Oh and yeah I’m basically for the monoply. I’d much rather have the good customer service.

Here’s a vote for competition, although I agree with attrayant about the customer service of the small telcos. That’s why we need competition. Since I moved into my new house in December, I’ve had numerous problems with Qwest.

Couldn’t get caller ID working, they kept trying to blame my box. Finally got a tech who knew his shit (after 5 trouble calls) and he fixed a programming error in their switch.

Then my internet wasn’t working right and I had noticible, intermittant noise on my line. After 3 visits from a tech, they discovered a problem on the fiber coming in to my neighborhood (it’s a new neighborhood). After 2 weeks they still hadn’t fixed it.

Don’t know if they ever did because I got a flyer in the mail from AT&T offering me two digital lines for what I was paying for 1 before.

I don’t care. I have Qwest (aka USWorst). For their package deal - 2 land lines & cell phone - it’s slightly cheaper than the competition. I don’t like them, but every time I start looking at other companies I hear horror stories from other users.

From what I have heard, Attrayant is probably correct about the lower quality of customer service with the smaller companies. I’ll go with cheaper rather than better service, because it seems there is no guarantee of excellent & reliable service, no matter who you go with.

Overall, I would like to keep the market open for competition.

I never got good service from AT&T. It always took days to get service when you moved and forget calling in a question about your bill. Plus when they were the only game in town they completly lorded over you the ability to cut off your phone and never let you speak on one again. Sure there are some cons to competition but there are plenty of pros.

I had Ameritech service and they were the absolute worst telco I have ever dealt w/ (Nynex, Bell Atlantic, Sprint). Let’s see… they sent a colelction agency after me for charges that they agreed, month after month, were an error on their part… they were sued or something by the government for charging customers for a service they should have been providing FOR FREE. It cost me over $50 for basic service, 1 line, no bells or whistles and only 50 calls/ month. Phone support was unhelpful with interminable waits. I cancelled my phone, got Sprint PCS and use only a cell phone now. I will never ever give another cent to those fuckers. I’m all for competition.

Before this poll really gets off the ground, maybe we should have some better definitions and understanding of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

First, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did more than just let anyone who wanted into the telecommunications industry. It specifically allows interexchange carriers, CAPs, cable companies, wireless companies, broadcasters, & utility companies to sell local service. It also requires the incumbent carriers to allow resale of their local services and connections to their equipment to those companies who wanted to sell local service. If the incumbent carriers do that, plus meet some other requirements, they will be allowed to sell long distance services, which is a very lucrative business. In addition to all that, the TA of 1996 gave discounts to schools, hospitals, & libraries in rural areas so that they would access to advanced telecommunications services. The whole idea was to make sure that everyone, in both urban and rural areas, has access to affordable and up-to-date telecommunications. By the way, the TA of 1996 also made the act of slamming (switching your LD service without telling you) illegal.

Onto the phone companies:
There are two basic types of local telephone providers: ILECs & CLECs.
ILECs, incumbent local exchange carriers, are old Bell companies (RBOCs) and independent telephone companies. These companies provided local telephone service prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
CLECs are competitive local exchange carriers and have come into play after the TA of 1996.

There are independent carriers, mostly in rural areas, that were not part of the Bell monopoly. In our local area, we have a telephone cooperative that pretty much sucks. They have all of the problems listed in the OP: horrible customer service, crappy techs, high prices, etc. They did not come into being, however, because of the TA of 1996. They existed before that and were not affiliated with Bell/AT&T.

We also have CLECs in our area (and I work for one!). Some CLECs simply resell ILEC service. Some lay down all their own wire and have their own switches. Some use the ILEC copper & fiber and have their own switches. What kind of service they offer is going to make a difference in what kind of technical service and customer service the client gets. For instance, if the CLEC is simply a reseller of ILEC service, when a field tech is needed, the ILEC sends him out. What kind of response time do you think they’re going to have with that? In addition, there have been a LOT of shake-ups in the telecommunications industry lately. Some of the more fly-by-night CLECs are going out of business, being bought, etc.

On the other hand, there are some CLECs that are very well-run and are cheaper than the ILECs. My company, for instance, is employee owned and has a HUGE focus on customer service. I think we do a pretty good job. We are also about 15% less expensive than any other telecommunications provider in our area.

So, after all that, my answers to your questions:

  1. Yes and no, depends on the company.
  2. Yes & yes.
  3. No, and it isn’t. Please read the act in full.
  4. I think there’s a 3rd option: a much less expensive bill and good technical & customer service. It exists, just apparently not where you are. Maybe the TA of 1996 will allow another company to come in there and shake up those slackers in your area.

Sorry that was so long…fightin’ ignorance and all that. :wink:

In general, I think competition is better then a monopoly. I’m wondering how so many bad phone companies are surviving? High prices, lousy service, lack of competence, hated by their customers, yet they survive. In some regions, the bad company is the only game in town; for some people there are choices, but one’s no better then the others. We no longer have a monopoly, but do we really have competition? Or are current regulations allowing insufficient competition?

As a Canadian/Albertan, I’m coming at this from a slightly different angle. We have a local telephone monopoly, but are allowed to choose our long distance operator, which was a newer development in my area (7 or 8 years now?).

I used to get totally screwed on my phone bill, but had no choice on services. Pay the outrageous long distance bills, or don’t phone long distance. I’m still with the old company, but since they are now competing for long distance services, the prices have dropped considerably. Now I have unlimited calling in Canada evenings and weekends, and do I ever take advantage of it!!! I really like the competitive rates.

So to answer your questions…

  1. I think that sometimes monopolies can be good, if strictly regulated so that prices remain competitive. Otherwise, it’s totally fleeces the helpless customer.

  2. I have no idea. Don’t care.

  3. I’ve generally been happy with government run utilities. I don’t consider phone, cable, and liquor stores public utilities (phone and liquor used to be under goverment control here).

  4. If my choices were unreliable/cheaper, or reliable/slightly more expensive, obviously I’d take reliable. So far, my experience has been still reliable, but cheaper.

Great Googly Moogly! $87.25 just to have a phone? Where do you live? I guess I need to check around as far as rates go, but I was under the impression that dial tone was basically cheap just about anywhere you live in the lower 48. Here in DC, which you might think of as an expensive area to live in, I used to pay about $30.00 for two lines (I used to have a seperate line for my inet access). That didn’t include long distance but I make maybe two LD calls per year. Now that I’ve dropped the 2nd line, the bill is down to $22-ish plus $4.50 for caller ID. At $87.25 I think I’d rather get a cell phone with a 500 minutes per month plan for $59.00.

C3 is right, though. The Act is about much more than just dial tone. I didn’t want to open the thread with a lecture on it, because threads with long wordy OPs tend to get skipped. Most of the responses seem to be for competition, which I can understand. And while some amount of price benefit may have been realized, I think that QoS has certainly been negatively affected (at least in my area). The Act had good intentions, but I think it is outdated and doesn’t take into account the needs of the recent technology/datacomm boom. I am pleased to have seen recent political intrest in revamping it.

You’re right. There are some CLECs that I actually get excellent feedback from. It’s just those mom & pop telcos that have been cheesing me off lately. Compounded by the fact that as of last December, I am no longer part of my own ILEC. I am oficially a DLEC (Data LEC) that relies on the ILEC (that I used ot be a part of) for my layer 1 WAN service. It’s a long story, and there is a pit thread on this if you want to know the specifics.

Basically, every time the company seems to be growing too large and scary, it is forced to break apart into lots of little specialized groups, just like the Federal Government. This has resulted in an ever-lengthening chain of sister affiliates & handoff organizations that come into play for even the simplest of problems.

Like I said, the Act may have had the best of intentions, but every day I just keep thinking that there has got to be a better way.