I’m mad as hell, and I have no choice but to keep taking it. I’m paying an obscene amount (the net is well over $150 per month) for cable TV, cable-delivered broadband Internet access of decent, but far from world-beating speed, and land-line phone service.

What do I get for my nearly two grand per year? Scores of TV channels I not only never watch, but upon whose graves I would cheerfully dance if they would just frickin’ go away (Bravo, I’m looking at you…). Internet access that while adequate slows down perceptibly at peak hours, and delivers roughly one-third the throughput of the “high-speed” standards of much of the civilized world. And phone service that works fine, but that I don’t really need—I’m just too lazy to face the redirecting of all potential callers to a mobile number, or the vagaries of cell service in my semi-rural location.

Meanwhile, a small, regional cable operator is bringing cheaper, better, fiber-optic service to its markets, including the next town over no more than four miles away—but it's not available to me. Verizon’s national FiOS fiber-optic service blankets the Boston area and much of Massachusetts a few score miles farther: not very much cheaper, a bit faster, and a bit better in almost every way—but unavailable in my market. Even more infuriating, my sister in Belgium a half-decade ago enjoyed much, much faster fiber broadband, phone, and rationally packaged cable TV for less than a third what I pay—while residents of cities like Seoul, Tokyo, or Singapore can bundle still faster cable with unlimited international calling, mobile-phone service, and zillion-channel cable for even less.

Lucky them. I, like you most likely, have effectively no choice; sure, there’s direct-broadcast satellite (Dish, DirecTV), but their bundles rely on slower, more problematic DSL Internet service to which I’m not willing to switch. Or I could cut the cord altogether, resign myself to slower DSL, subscribe to HULU et al. and give up local fare like sports, news, and regional public television (OTA is only really viable for two stations where I live).

I, like many of you, am a captive of C-mcast (name of The Beast), the most reviled company in America. Engulfer of networks (NBC) and competitors (Time-Warner Cable); purveyor of stock whose price has almost quadrupled in a mere six years; and beneficiary of the kind of monopoly power we were supposed to have left behind with Teddy Roosevelt and yellow journalism (as if!).

Somehow, our government, largely through the aegis of the FCC—whose current chairman is a former cable and cellphone lobbyist!—has allowed Big Cable to carve up the major markets among them, such that well over half of us are in the same boat: We can buy Comcast, Time Warner, or Cox packages at their hideously inflated prices, or we can go pound sand. (And even in the few markets where two overlap, price competition is virtually unheard of.) Don’t believe me? Have a look at the FCC’s very own interactive map. (You may have to zoom in to see specifics.)

Yes, there is history to how we got here. There’s the precedent of The Phone Company, although Ma Bell got broken up a generation ago. More apt is the dictatorship of property in the U.S.: since it is via the public ways by which wired information services inevitably must spread (roads and utility tunnels), cash-starved cities and municipalities have the ability to cut sweet deals with providers, and Big Cable is only too ready exploit this need to gain exclusive access. And let’s not forget Ronald Reagan and the flight controllers, which marked the dawn of the Age of Deregulation; nearly two decades ago Britain, France, and most other European countries’ regulatory bodies forced their physical-networks’ owners to lease at cost, inculcating competition that drove prices down to their current levels. This fact that should surprise no one who stayed awake through Day 1 of Ec 101. (Want to get even more pissed off? Read Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, by former Obama Sci-Tech adviser Susan Crawford.)

My view? This is bullshit. What is government for, if not to prevent this sort of abuse of its citizenry? Was Standard Oil and U.S. Steel all for naught? I call upon my fellow downtrodden technophiles to rise up! Take up your pitchforks, light your torches, and follow me!

If I don’t show, look for me in Seoul.


javanp's picture

"there’s direct-broadcast satellite (Dish, DirecTV), but their bundles rely on slower, more problematic DSL Internet service to which I’m not willing to switch."

Even with one local provider, CenturyLink, DSL options vary in my area but I currently have 40mbps (though it's with a paltry 3mbps upload speed) and it is incredibly reliable. Whereas cable internet speeds can be all over the place, DSL is pretty solid.

Maybe you've researched your DSL options or maybe you've already experimented, but it kinda sounded like stereotypes were keeping you from trying out DSL. If the latter, I'd definitely say at least consider it as an option.

trynberg's picture

javanp, DSL is limited to 3 Mbps in most of the country...and even slower if you are further from the CO box. You are in a very rare situation.

Daniel's rant is spot on. I paid less for broadband internet when I was an early adopter in 1998 than I do...and far less back in early 2000s.

High-rated download speeds are useless for applications like video streaming anyway, since most of the telcos throttle such applications.

javanp's picture

I think your information is a tad bit outdated. According to DSLreports, the average connection speed for DSL across the country is 6.7 mbps and 60% of people have connections greater than 4 mbps.

Oh... and that was two years ago.

trynberg's picture

Please provide a link. Most residential DSL maxes out at 6 mbps...even according to that website.

javanp's picture
John Freeman's picture

Yes it is a big problem. Susan Crawford, who you mention in your excellent article thinks that the mayors of America's cities are the answer. Promote competition by allowing multiple vendors build in the cities or even promoting city run ISP's through power line technology. See the city of Chattanooga that has already done this successfully. Of course the cable companies ran to the state governments to get this type of fierce competitor outlawed. Remember monopolies hate competition.

Oppo please's picture

I have had them since I was in my apartment in college back about 10 years ago. I guess I could go to one of the dish providers but I really see no reason to. Before my wife and I got married she hated them with a passion. Whenever she had a technical problem they would have her on hold forever. I have never really had those problems. My biggest issue would be.........Let me pick my channels.......I understand the bundle thing but don't like it. Right now you have to do what was done back in the 90s You have to buy the whole album for the 1,2,or 3 songs you like. I am waiting for the ITunes option.

mars2k's picture

Partial list of why I hate my cable provider:
Unbelievably incompetent service, the CBS flap (no refund on that one after losing 23 channels for a month) on and on. The latest is a reorganized channel lineup to “help” the customers. If you add up the time for every current customer to relearn the lineup what does that come to? how many man-years? who is helped? Not me! Add to that now the new channel lineup includes about 20 adult (read hard core porn) channels that list the actual explicit titles of the available “flics”. Is there a pun in there? …I can’t tell. I’m not judging porn aficionados. To each his own, however now I have to crawl over those 20 before I get to any of the music channels. Great for the kids. “Daddy what’s a glory hole”
Will their stupidity never end? Managements’ not the kids’. This is top down stupidity or it could not be so all pervasive with superb continuity and consistency. By the way no way to get satellite.

HomerTheater's picture

Really? There are no parental controls available on your cable box? Don't say "No" until you look. Because every one (cable and satellite) I've seen has parental controls that allow you to make unwanted channels "disappear". In addition, you can create a custom list of channels that only contains the channels you are interested in. Time to learn how to use your equipment.

mars2k's picture

D’OH…….. No magic disappear buttons….. Homer. It’s in the guide. The guide applet lists the EXPLICIT titles. Can’t disappear anything in the guide. But thanks for the presumption that I don’t know how to operate my gear. Who knew some mook would defend the cable company. I guess I should have made myself clearer for the low information set.
Time for you to get the point.
The point is not that I need to learn how to work my gear. I know how to do that. I know how to download the manual and follow instructions for operations that are possible. I know that if I don’t know how or cannot ask Mr. Google. I could call TWC for one of their maddening support sessions and ask someone offshore how to do something that cannot be done. I don’t need a part time job thanks.
The point is…… TWC has, over the years, been a constant offense on so many levels this being only the latest. Even if I could reprogram the guide applet, which I cannot, why should I have to do that when I never had to before? They rearranged the channel line up to sell more product. They try to explain away the massive inconvenience of having to relearn where everything is, to reprogram all the saved series information and the guide containing all the new porn product which cannot be removed from the GUIDE program on the DVR by saying it will be easier for their customer base to find what they want that way. It isn't better they did not make it easier they made it worse.
The point is ….the cable company is clueless about customer experience, satisfaction, and service and you are just clueless.

HomerTheater's picture

I can choose cell phone service from 6 or 8 providers plus additional pre-paid services. But my cell phone bill is still DOUBLE or TRIPLE what people pay for comparable cell service in Europe. I'm not asking for Europe's income tax structure, but they certainly have less expensive cell phone service. If they also have less expensive cable and satellite service, we are getting double screwed. If competition in cell phone carriers doesn't lower monthly costs, it's not likely to lower costs for cable/satellite/internet either.

kharp1's picture

I cut the cord about 3 years ago, and, for the most part have no regrets. If there's a sporting event I really want to watch I can go to a bar or restaurant and grab a drink or dinner and watch my game. I can get most anything else I want on my Galaxy. I don't miss it nearly as much as I thought I would. I'll wait to see how this all plays out. I'm for cable if I get to chose my channels and can get "unthrottled" Internet speeds. Until then, I'm not playing the game.

stodgers's picture

I cut the cord six years ago and have never looked back. Like kharp1, I'll go to the bar to watch NFL games, but would have to anyway since my favorite team is out of market (as long as we're talking cable).

People complain about not having choices, but you do. Your options are to pay for lackluster service, or not pay for anything and get your media fix elsewhere. It is silly to write a blog post complaining about how much you have to pay when you can simply *not pay*. With Netflix, Redbox, and numerous other hard media options (rather than streaming), why bother? I borrowed three seasons of Game of Thrones from a neighbor. A co-worker lent me Modern Family. I get my internet off my phone.

Think out of the box. Don't limit yourself to what Comcast's marketing tells you that you should buy.

Agip_skf's picture

I used to work for the evil empire, and can tell you they hate their employees almost as much as they hate their customers, no really, internal memos and instructions from management made it clear what they were all about. $$$$$. I received their service free (well almost just had to pay the taxes) when i worked for them, and i still kept my DirecTV its such a superior service with technology the cable companies seem reluctant to implement, and when they do its for limited regions, with a slow roll out. I can say though that the days of internet slow down due to traffic is gone, the networks are built to under capacity (that's how they get the speed boost)if your having those issues then something else is going on. When you plug directly into the modem with an ethernet cable you should get exactly what you pay for. I see no reason why you cant have satellite and cable internet, why do you feel you have to have them bundled? I've moved and now have Brighthouse cable internet and love them, they don't nickel and dime you like comcast, when they come to the house there is no charge, most of the time your speaking to someone local on the phone, very nice people.
Bottom line, get satellite and keep cable just for internet until fiber comes your way