Saturday, January 31, 2009

Government-sanctioned duopoly: Pick Verizon or Comcast

I have Verizon Wireless for cell phone service and based on their customer service over the years, I see no reason to give them any more money than they have already robbed from me. I also read an online blog about their horrible customer service and was convinced to stick to Comcast wherever possible. Verizon owns the telephone lines (DSL service where available and telephone service), and a new infrastructure they spent billions throwing into the ground, called FiOS; Comcast owns the cable lines (cable TV, cable internet, digital voice through Verizon's phone lines).

Problem is, those are my choices. I'm not one for too many choices - go into a furniture mega-store and try to figure out exactly what you want within an hour; I tried that recently and it didn't work out so well. When my wife and I moved, we kept our Comcast service but dumped the digital box so we got the most basic cable service available - 20 channels, no box - and high speed internet. We were liberated, for the most part, from TV (my wife's idea). It was only about $55 a month and it worked fine for a year and a half. But we got the itch for a landline, and here were our options:
  • Verizon: $39.99 per month for unlimited national dialing with a few features (Caller ID, Voicemail, etc.), or $29.99 per month for a local calling plan that allows us to call towns we border for free, and 5 cents per minute otherwise.
  • Comcast: $39.99 per month for unlimited national dialing with a bunch of features, a few more than Verizon but not much, or $29.99 per month for local calling to towns near us.

Got that? $40 a month for national; $30 a month for local. That, my friends, is called price fixing. Or collusion. Whatever duopolists do.

That means suddenly our "services" bill nearly doubles. In fact, it more than doubled because we figured, why not have more channels and get the 3-fer package? So we'll end up paying near $125 a month, if not more, and we get the same "great deal" with Verizon's FiOS plan. We opted for Comcast because it's what we know and the price doesn't go up by QUITE as much after the promotional period is over. But it's interesting just how much people are willing to pay for TV and internet services these days, with the landline being a mere afterthought. The landline is now priced at a premium because if you want an old-fashioned landline, you have two choices, and the prices are the same. This is your government at work: years of regulation and then semi-deregulation allowed the "haves" to continue to own the infrastructure, so why should they even allow competition?

This article does a good job of explaining the problems with two companies controlling these services that most want.

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