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Destined To Fail (stevenkovar.com)
296 points by stevenkovar on July 23, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

I am wondering how Time Warner is getting away with categorizing this guy as an independent contractor. He wears a company specified uniform, uses company supplied tools, and does jobs in the order specified by the company. This sounds like a clear-cut case of mis-catagorizing an employee as in independent contractor in order to avoid paying overtime.

"He explains how Time Warner issues a specific screw driver which acts as a key to open cable boxes and how the previous owner stripped it trying to open the wrong kind of box; it’s rendered useless. “You’re telling me they knowingly sent you out with broken equipment?” All Bill can do is laugh to himself and give back a defeated, “Yep.”"

Separation of labor from ownership of (broken) means of production leads to hilarity. I bet Marx would have a chuckle over this.

PS: If you are in the Austin area and need a master carpenter, I know a guy who needs you just as much.

This line made me happy.

Came here to make the same comment :)

Same here. Here's to hoping that some contact info gets shared.

Wait. He first "hacks" the order form to make the "supply my own modem" checkbox available, and then complains that "Time Warner should have known, based on the options selected during my purchase, that I would supply my own modem and asked me personally to supply the MAC address and relevant information".

Can't have it both ways, man. Time Warner can be blamed for many things, but expecting them to seamlessly support an option they had disabled intentionally is a bit much. You're lucky they let you do it at all.

The URL string suggested it was an A/B test, similar to what we use at AppSumo. The option was available when you went back to the options page, but disappeared after a script/some data loaded. For what it's worth, that particular insight was from "Bill."

You basically have to hack / debug every website from Time Warner in order to use it. I swear I've whipped out chrome inspector / firebug attempting to use TWC websites at least twice.

There could be an equally long blog post about the maddening information architecture and odd lapses in QA on critical features. For nearly 4 months their online recurring billing was sending me confirmation and then one day I get a shutoff notice with audacious late payment fees - why? Because the system failed at making the transaction but there was no error handling, so instead of throwing an error it instead just marked me as having missed a payment on the backend.

Don't worry, I am convinced that checkbox does absolutely nothing, enabled or not. I just moved within Austin, and I didn't hack the form. I selected the option for supplying my own modem because it was available, and the technician was still blindsided when he saw my modem.

To top it off, this was a transfer, so it should not have been news that I brought the modem from my previous apartment, especially given that I selected the checkbox confirming this. While holding the modem he brought along to install, the technician informed me that I also had a modem attached to my account supplied by them three years ago, and asked where it was. I was not paying for a modem that was listed on my account for three years--I verified this. Laughable account auditing on their part (that should be automated), no loss for me, and neither party has any idea where that modem wandered off to.

The technician was pleasant and the installation only took a few minutes, so I count myself lucky. Overall, though, it was incredibly sloppy and didn't exactly inspire confidence.

Par for the course, I suppose, because three years ago they goofed up my work order by never completing the scheduling process, but confirming the time and date of the appointment with me. Then, after apologizing, they scheduled the new work order another two weeks out.

It's not destined to fail when they have a monopoly.

I can say, though, that Cox does a good job with the benefits of their actual workers. However, most of their workers are outsourced, and are treated the same way as in the article. This also means the actual employees have to fix up the subcontractors' mistakes, because of how badly their incentives are aligned.

Source: a family member who is a Cox employee. I've also known a Comcast employee who had decent benefits for a call center job, but whose authority was sorely limited which made doing his job difficult.

Great story. Large businesses like TWC create systems in which they can uniformly control the process of their employees providing a bridge between their product and their customers. Unfortunately, rarely are these systems as fine-tuned as Apple has their "genius bar" set up, for example. They're usually more similar to the DMV, where the paperwork and step-by-step process provides an experience that attempts to create an equal experience for all customers (that also allows for business-specific necessities, such as keeping a huge group of constantly changing data organized to go along with the DMV example), but the experience ends up being more of an obstacle or burden than it providing things like efficiency and flexibility.

I guess what I'm saying is that TWC sees no advantage of providing a better system. It costs money to uproot the current system, and it also costs money to create and run a system as detail-oriented as companies like Apple. They still get people to buy their product (even intelligent, insightful ones like the author of the article), and the profit margin is probably so significant that they consider it unnecessary to make Bill's day easier. Something that probably sounds a lot like, "If Bill doesn't like his job, he can quit." Or, "If Steven (the author) doesn't like our product, he can find another place to give his business."

The real problem is that TWC understands full and well what they're doing. You think they don't get hundreds of phone calls every week from angry customers or disgruntled employees? The fact of the matter is that they have the upper hand in terms of what the author was pointing out.

I just feel bad for Bill, and the thousands of people like him. This sort of thing makes you feel lucky not to be forced to lead a life that includes a job that is just one huge up-hill battle (in all the wrong senses of the phrase).

Good luck to Bill. My favorite part was his notice at the end to anyone who needs a master carpenter. I hope somebody contacts him who read that.

Edit: after reading more posts, it's clear that a large part of "the problem" has to do with the industry itself and the players involved. I think we'd all love to see somebody uproot the whole industry and start from scratch.

I'm concerned that this article contains enough information for TimeWarner to identify Bill. I hope that he doesn't face any retribution.

If they seek to find out who "Bill" is, my hope is that they use the opportunity to properly outfit a man who could benefit from decent tools; in the end it would reflect well on their own bottom line.

Really? Reading your comment I realized that I just naturally I assumed Bill wasn't his real name.

Doesn't have to be his real name; how many employees were scheduled sometime during the last 2 months to have appointments at 9 at a building called 'Milago'?

It also mentions some of Bill's career history: former woodworker with army comms training.

I'm betting they don't have that on file and very few people at the company know those details.

This is completely off-topic, but what is the deal with grey font colours on light backgrounds these days? It pointlessly makes it harder to read. I shouldn't have to open Firebug to change it to black before I start reading.


I've got the same problem and gripe.

Apparently one cause is design mock-ups in which text is ipsum-loremed and muted to reduce distraction from the overall design.

Other useful tools include console-mode browsers, or plugins such as Readability Redux. Though I find my self increasingly editing out elements (in addition to fonts, especially static headers/footers) which get in my way.

I strongly agree with contrast rebellion. Having said that, a bright white background and black text is harder for me to read than a light grey background and blacktext.

But the back ground shouldn't be darker than #cccccc

I think, but I do not know, that some people with Aspergers prefer a lower contrast. (See, for example, early websites using silver background with black text.)

Yes on the contrast. RR does a dark-on-beige scheme on its rendered pages by default. I use MoonReader+ as a eBook reader on Android, it does similarly.

There was some research in the 1970s or 1980s about maximum readability for paper texts which arrived at similar conclusions. A dark brown text on matte cream paper tested best. I've read several books printed in this format, and found it quite readable. Though paper still beats screen for readability (but not grepping).

Noted! I'll adjust the contrast.

Great article. Another suggestion if you don't mind... the floating Steven Kovar block makes it difficult to zoom in and read in a mobile browser, as it floats on top of the text.

Thanks for pointing that out as well. I'll work in a solution to that.

A friend of mine wanted his wordpress site's design updated, so I did so. He specifically requested the background be made grey, lowering the contrast from the default white, although he left the text black. He asserts that this makes it easier for him to read, which I find surprising considering that he's in his 50s.

Just a tip - If you use OSX, you could either use the Reader feature in Safari (or Clearly in Chrome) or even better just hit ctrl+option+command+8 to get into high contrast.

I think its "kids these days" don't realize its hard for us "old folks" to read... but then he is a designer so....

What gets me are the sites who somehow break the generally very good scaling that Safari lets me do to make the text bigger.

Isn't anyone else simply flabbergasted that the OP has never seen Blade Runner??

I'm not sure how being "too young" can be a valid excuse unless you are under 15 years old.

I read that as saying that OP had never seen the original version with narration. Personally, I've only seen the Director's Cut, never the one with the voice-over and them driving across the green landscapes.


EDIT: actually, I don't think it was the Director's Cut, since it had the extra "violent scenes" (and which are important IMHO). But it couldn't be the International Version since it didn't have the voice-over, nor the Final Cut since it was before 2007. I'm stumped.

It's a 30 year old movie.

Alien is nearly 35 years old.

There have been a bunch of movies made since then that OP may have thought he needed to watch - thus not having time to watch the actually good movies.

I'm about to watch both of these in the next month, so it'll be interesting to see the clunky bits. Visions of the future from the past are fascinating. (See also the Gibson story "The Gernsback Continuum".)

There are very few clunky bits in Alien or Blade Runner. It is amazing how well they hold up.

I dunno. I love Alien as much as the next guy, but there are a few times when you see the alien and think "that's just a thin person in an elaborate suit".

Interesting that's what you notice, and not the CRTs or the incandescent bulbs in switches.

I've seen what appears to be the Director's Cut, which is missing narration and a scene or two. My 'too young' comment was in reply to seeing the original version of Blade Runner in the theater.

Alright, here's your geek card back. Be more careful with it next time.

Given the topic of the post, OP should also watch Brazil.

If you haven't yet seen Blade Runner, I emphatically advise you to avoid the version with narration (theatrical release).

Why? I've actually avoided watching it simply because I can't decide which version to watch :)

The narration is not needed for the story, is jarring enough that it brings you out of the movie, and is done very poorly by Harrison Ford.

Guess what? I've never seen Blade Runner, and I enjoy flabbergasting people.

I had an appointment scheduled with Time Warner in Austin, for Friday between the hours of 8AM and 9PM to fix my internet which has been randomly losing signal. I figured I could take a day off of work and try to get things done while the internet was up, which turned out to only be about 3 hours.

I got a call from the tech. at 7PM saying he was on his way. An hour later, after hearing nothing, I try to call him and get voice mail. I call Time Warner to see what happened and they said that I didn't answer the phone when he called... even though I spoke with him and told him I was home (and answered his questions about whether the internet was still out, three times.) I had to schedule for this Wednesday, where I'll have to take more time off of work to attempt to get this fixed.

I understand that the majority of the blame lies with Time Warner for allowing their field technicians to get overbooked and blamed for being late or missing jobs, but it's hard to not be upset at this particular field tech for saying he was on his way, and then not showing up and reporting it as a missed call.

But he and time Warner didn't fail. He sucessfully installed your whatever and TW is getting your money.

... for the first sale. But if TW doesn't have a monopoly, I doubt they'd get the second sale after that experience.

...but TW does. So they don't really give a rat's ass.

Yeah, I'm not seeing TW's downside here. They're a monopoly, they don't have to care about tiny details like customer satisfaction or doing things correctly.

I simply hate it when companies do that ! They don't take care of their employees and it all goes straight to hell ! * written while sitting in a uncomfortable chair , old keyboard and 5 year old pc ( i make websites ) // end of rant

Word of advice - if you know anything about the code that nobody else does, use it as leverage. Come in one day, call your boss into an office and tell him you're quitting. When he asks why - voice your problems with the tools you work with. Offhandedly suggest that you actually wouldn't mind staying if work wasn't such a pain in the ass thanks to these issues. Outline how much it will cost them to train a new employee up and how much cheaper the hardware is in comparison.

Alternatively, just complain incessantly without threatening to quit if you can't get another job easily.

Reason I say this is that me and my team have been working on shoddy hardware for the last six months, then we put our collective feet down and demanded something better. Now we each have a pretty damn sweet system to work on.

I don't think you want to be living a life where you have to issue ultimatums to get what you need. The world is a bigger place. Find better work and go and do it. You can remind them of the things you've been unhappy about by leaving. If everyone did that (instead of sticking in dead-end jobs) it would be much harder to create crappy jobs.

Yet companies act in exactly that way towards their employees. Late too many times? Ultimatum is issued where you get fired if it happens again. Too many sick days? Same result. Underperforming? Yup, you guessed it. Your employers are not your friends - do what you have to to make your life easier. IMO, ofcourse.

A good employer will talk to you and try and work things out before giving you an ultimatum. You lose little, and can make things a lot easier, by doing the same.

For most people quitting your job is an extremely risky proposition. Even if you do have a financial safety net, there are no guarantees other employers will be jumping at the opportunity to give you a job.

what do you do when you are the new guy ? 1-6 months int the current company ? Also i'm not the only dev ,there are atleast 3 other guys that can do the stuff i do. :|

Are they also working with sub-par equipment? If so, put in a request together with them. Otherwise, put in the request yourself. If they turn it down, look for another job and put this one down as a contracting position. In my experience, employers in this industry pretty much never ask for references anyway, in the UK at least.

Funny enough, I sit in the same boat.. tethering on my 6 gig data plan, waiting for my internet technician, only 2 more sleeps to go

Bit off topic, but why aren't people crowdsourcing their internet connection in high rise buildings? I'm sure time warner and every other isp's would just love that

Hope Bill can find work through your post. Kudos.

> The only way I could remove the monthly modem rental fee in my order online was to view the code on Time Warner’s site and edit a hidden part of the HTML for the appropriate checkbox to be visible. I’ve never had to ‘hack’ an order form before.

I guess the "appropriate checkbox" was greyed out (no way I believe people are looking at the html in case there would be an hidden checkbox), then the author used firebug or something to make it visible and then submitted the form hoping the server on the other side is going to do something with the $post variable. Not that tricky but there is no way to confirm it's going to work as intended. IANAL but I raise doubts about the legal validity of such tamperings with web forms.

What are the reasons for my comment being downvoted ?

Welcome to the wonderful world of corporations - where nothing makes sense, everything is late and the dumber you are, the higher you climb!

Time Warner seems like a company that suffers from being run by cooperate execs who dressage for fun. Besides totally ignoring the inconvenience that they place on each of their customers, they also clearly undervalue their employees. The biggest thing outside of this article that shows they are out of touch is their lack of ability to get a deal done with NFL for the NFL network and RedZone.

The NFL's RedZone network has changed the way Americans watch football (the biggest sport in America), yet 3 years into the network and Time Warner still has no deal. It's tiresome and another inconvenience for the customer.

I hope this doesn't backfire on Bill.

It puts me in mind of a story I heard this past weekend (for the second or third time -- hint, hint as to the experience's effect on the customer, to any cable co. "image" people happening to read this).

The person I spoke with ("the customer") told me how, transitioning from an outside antenna to cable TV, he had been very careful to tell the Comcast order taker that his installation should be classified as a "new" installation and not as a simple hook-up (the latter implying a pre-existing cable line to the property). The order taker seemed to have enough technical understanding to understand this and indicate they were recording the order for service installation as such.

When the technician arrived, he seemed quite competent, quickly assessed and understood the situation, and began executing a new installation including a new line from the pole.

However, he quickly started receiving calls from his supervisor, who was nasty and who started shouting at him so loudly -- including foul language -- that the customer could hear the supervisor's side of the conversation bleeding out of the technician's cell phone.

Apparently, despite this customer's care in placing the order and the order taker's reassurance that they understood what was needed, the order ended up in the order tracking system as a simple "hook-up".

There was nothing the technician could do about this, and he remained courteous with the customer and efficient in his work. But he was totally, abusively berated and dumped on by his supervisor.

The customer felt bad enough about this that he actually apologized, saying he was sorry the technician had to go through that.

In retrospect, he told me he wished he'd followed up with Comcast support until he hopefully might get through to a manager with sufficient authority to reprimand -- fire, preferably -- that supervisor. Someone who should not be managing anyone.

And yes, the technician was a contractor. Personally, I see so much of this, I think Congress should be made to pass a law forbidding these (Federally regulated, quasi-monopolies, after all) companies from using any contract workers. These companies have obviously abused their positions, including in their labor relations. Make all their employees full time, with benefits, and put the companies directly on the hook for such abuses.

When they need to make up the differences in expense, take it out of those companies' managements' hide. If you want an argument for that, what premium do -- or rather, don't -- they have to offer and pay to get management capable of managing a fucking monopoly (or the next thing to same)?

Did I interpret this correctly? The technician saw the name Nebuchadnezzar and assumed it was a reference to a ship (perhaps from The Matrix) and not the infamous Chaldean emperor from the Tanakh?

Pop culture has more traction than ancient history does.

This hits close to home. I tried getting internet service from TWC twice but they failed each time. The first time they couldn't find the cable output. Turned out it didn't exist. So I scheduled an appointment for a "wall drop" (creation of needed cable output), but the guy just showed up confused that I didn't have one asked me to schedule a wall drop.

a few years ago i moved into an apartment in NYC that somehow didn't have a phone line. at all. like there wasn't a wall jack in the entire apartment. (it was a hundred-year-old building, i have no idea how this was possible.)

i discovered this when i finally gave up on cable internet (insanely unreliable there) and needed about five calls and three visits to get verizon to understand that someone would have to drill a hole in my floor and run wire into the basement before my DSL could be hooked up, because yes, i really didn't have a phone line.

Destined to be fired... now that the post about how horrible he thinks his employer is has gone viral.

Hope that carpentry thing works out.

Don't be silly. Nobody in the real world reads Hacker News.

I've never met a technician (outside the government) who didn't have his own tools. This is probably why.

Security tools aren't readily obtainable by independent contractors.


I think of that stupid question, "Debit or Credit?"

The more I think about it, the more I see it as a hypnotic induction that prepares everybody for bad service. It's the perfect thing to get people used to the idea that they shouldn't experience customer delight, never.

How is "debit or credit?" a hypnotic induction that prepares everybody for bad service? Isn't it just a request for a basic bit of information that a cashier needs to process a transaction?

I'm pretty sure it's a useless question. You can use debit cards as credit cards and vice versa.

Nice American-centric view there. Up here in Canada we can use 'debit' to pay using our bank account with a separate card from our credit cards.

No, it's exactly the same down here in the US. Parent poster is just clueless.

My purchases only qualify for the quota needed to trigger interest payment on my checking account if I choose "credit." Also, merchants are charged differently depending on the choice. So it's a useful question.

Use a credit card as a debit card and get charged the cash advance rate? No thanks, I'm glad people ask!

That's precisely the point, though. If you could only use debit cards as debit cards and credit cards as credit cards, they wouldn't need to ask which way I would prefer they run it.

I'll say that 90% of my purchases are done with a credit card.

My financial mentors have taught me that debit cards are a scam and that they're something you don't want to use unless you like getting hit with $30 fees to do $3 transactions. You don't want to use them to check into a hotel, buy gas or buy a rental car.

If you're using a credit card, there's no reason for them to ask that stupid question. If you're using a debit card it gives them a license to screw you two different ways.

I do use debit cards to (i) access my health savings account, and (ii) access my paypal balance, which gives me a pool of "mad money" that I can refresh by selling the things I buy with it.

So they are overrun with customers, staff working their asses off already - and the author suggests putting work into supporting rare edge cases like customers bringing their own modem? Shouldn't they just remove that option entirely to streamline their flow, and ditch the ultra-rare customer who demands that? Sure, every customer wants a perfect experience super customized to their exact situation, but that's not how you run a business. Some of the biggest successes like Apple and McDonalds just pick some reasonable defaults, options, and cost per user levels and then that is that, no super advanced configuration, and the savings are huge. Just the lack of many different hardware configurations does wonders for Apple's software not running into problems and wonders for the hardware ordering cost savings (for the business).

Comcast charges $7/mo for a shitty modem. A brand new top end Motorola modem costs <$90 from Amazon. Why shouldn't we buy our own modems?

For the same reason that they should make sure every tech has a functioning screwdriver? Everything that adds 5 minutes to an appointment adds up.

The success of e.g. Apple is because they wake a product that works, not because of some nerdy argument about settings. If your product is getting a tech to show up within an N-hour timeframe, you need to find ways to engineer that.

Of course, as has been pointed out up thread, most cable companies don't have to care if their appointments are reliable, so they don't, and whichever department made that web form probably wasn't accountable either.

What does AppSumo do? It appears you first have to sign up to find out..

Average return to work after inguinal hernia surgery:

worker's comp case: 6 weeks self-employed: 2 days

it didn't really fail. You were up after it was all over with. Fast, cheap or good - pick two.

Except cable setup is neither fast, nor very good. At best they picked one.

Of all the government created monopolies, the cable monopolies are some of the worst.

If cable companies had to compete to keep business, they'd offer better service and treat their employees better. Southwest airlines is a good example of a company that has to keep costs low, but does this in part by treating their employees very well.

Notice that they charge ever higher and higher fees, in part because the municipalities are on the take here and get a cut of the fees, but also because the demand is inelastic. If you live in Austin and you want cable, they have your business.

So, there's no reason to spend the money to have enough technicians to ensure they are able to do a good job and a timely one.

A big part of the reason this never improves is that everyone blames Time Warner. TWC is just maximally allocating resources, which is what they should do. Namely, out of areas where they have a monopoly protected by the violence the city of austin will do to any other cable company that tries to compete.... and into areas where they have to compete for customers.

But you don't hear this issue at election time. Why do people not hold their city council peeps accountable for imposing this overpriced monopoly on them?

My guess is that most don't realize it is a government created monopoly, and the ones who do, many think that there would be no cable if the city hadn't given those rights away as an incentive to install all the cable. (not the case... places where this doesn't happen, still get cable because it isn't that expensive to put in the cable.)

You can always count on nirvana to come up with the maximal libertarian argument. What proof is there that this is a government created monopoly? What exactly is the "violence" that Austin would do to competitors? Do libertarians not believe in the concept of natural monopolies?

The monopoly is not entirely created by the government. It would be more accurate to say, "the major cable companies have divided the country amongst themselves and agreed not to step on each other's turf." The FCC and the local governments have various levels of complicity in this arrangement.

A municipality would not likely visit any violence upon a competitor, but that's largely because the only way to become a competitor (you can't just start digging holes and dropping cable in them) is through the approval of the municipality. This is where the "government-sponsored monopoly" idea comes into play, because there is often a revolving door between the government agency nominally charged with regulating cable service and the cable company that administers it.

Also, no, libertarians in general do not "believe in the concept of natural monopolies". Many libertarians hold that monopolies are short-lived and are prolonged only through the complicity of governments--or other actors which may play the same role in context, like the mafia, or even the corporation itself, should it become a de facto government. Of course, with that last point, you start begging the question...

And where municipalities have not received sufficient -- or any (i.e. high speed) -- service from existing providers and have therefore, finally, attempted to deploy their own local service (an action with much established precendent, e.g. rural electrification cooperatives, water service, etc. -- even telephone exchanges), in many of those cases the incumbent telecommunications providers have lobbied and coerced state governments to outlaw such actions.

They don't want to offer service. But they're damned sure not going to let anyone else do so -- not even let the community do so for themselves.

I'd hardly call that healthy competition.

> What exactly is the "violence" that Austin would do to competitors?

To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke: If you run your own cable, you'll need a permit. If you do it by negotiating with the landowners without a permit, you'll be blocked. If you do it anyway, you'll be jailed. If you try to escape from jail, you'll be shot.

Do libertarians not believe in the concept of natural monopolies?

Many don't, and many others only admit of very special cases. Arguments against the idea can be found with a search on "rothbard" or "mises" and "monopoly".

>You can always count on nirvana to come up with the maximal libertarian argument.

Thank you!

>What proof is there that this is a government created monopoly?

I'm sorry, but I thought everyone knew that in the USA, most municipalities created a monopoly right, which they sell to the highest bidder, to operate cable services within their borders. This comes up for renewal on some long term, but during that term, only the government ordained company can operate a cable service.

That's the definition of a monopoly.

>What exactly is the "violence" that Austin would do to competitors?

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. And like fire it can be a fearsome servant and a terrible master." -- George Washington

>Do libertarians not believe in the concept of natural monopolies?

Since most of the people who reject liberty misuse the word "monopoly" in my experience, I think you'll have to define it more precisely.

But in this case, there isn't any argument that these are natural monopolies-- like the post office, they are government created monopolies.

It is literally illegal to compete.

I live in Austin and switched from TWC to U-Verse when it was launched. Many customers also have Grande. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that TWC's long dominance was from some government protection arrangement, but I'm not aware of it. Could you offer any specifics as to what gives TWC a monopoly and why it doesn't apply to U-Verse and Grande.

The monopoly lies in the fact that municipalities need not provide a franchise to more than one cable operator (such as TWC). In some municipalities you can switch Internet service from, say, cable to telephone-based service (such as U-Verse) but in many others this is not a realistic option.

The ability to pipe TV over IP is dramatically weakening the natural cable company monopolies. In AT&T phone service territory, as they upgrade their network you can switch to U-Verse for not just internet but also television, with a much improved set-top box experience.

I don't agree with the claim that opening up the ability to lay a cable network to everyone would help things -- heck, look how slow the deployment of U-Verse is taking over AT&T's existing infrastructure... having to do that from scratch, laying a whole new network over the city and in everybody's yards, would be a many times larger endeavor -- but technological changes are already making competition much more possible than before since now both of those entrenched networks can be used for TV.

Do you have the any evidence that cable monopolies have been dramatically weakened? E.g., dropping prices, reduced ability to pressure vendors?

I think we might get there one day, but I suspect they're barely noticing it right now.

In 1985 FCC rules were adjusted to create CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers) by forcing the I(ncumbent)LECs to allow competition on their hardware.

This never happened in the cable industry because cable isn't considered necessary like phone service is.

Actually, not true in all of Austin. Much of the city is also wired for Grande Communications cable, and so far, I've found them to be much more responsive and with better tools than the TW people I'd used in the past.

How many times are you willing to let a startup tear up your yard? Or are you referring to the proposals that government should force private companies to share the critical infrastructure they created at their own expense? I can't imagine that sitting very well with libertarians or people vehemently opposed to government monopolies.

The only way last mile utilities are going to be fair is if government steps in (correctly). To my mind, that means municipally laid and maintained last-mile fiber patched to the commercial provider of my choosing, but I expect that will remain a dream for a few decades, at least.

You're not familiar with the concept of easements, are you? Generally, the first meter or two of your property is designated as an easement, for the purposes of running utility lines, telephone lines, and yes, cable lines. So yes, most people have given others the right to tear up their yard. It's just that the city then re-grants the rights to one or two utilities as opposed to having a genuinely competitive bidding process for the city's cable, telephone, or even electricity business.

>So yes, most people have given others the right to tear up their yard

To one cable company, one electrical utility, one telephone company, and to the local government-run water and sewage monopolies. Not to fifty startups.

A situation with a "genuinely competitive bid process" is a government-granted monopoly granted based on better criteria, and would certainly benefit consumers. It's still not a free market, which is my point: nobody actually wants a completely free market for last-mile utilities.

In the UK, that's essentially exactly what we have: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/oftel/publications/br...

What exactly could I personally do to change this situation?

You could actively petition your friends and neighbors locally and try to change your local representation. Especially in elections for Alderman, niche issues like cable monopolies can carry weight, especially because voting is based on the issues raised by a vocal minority. In some places being elected to city council is not that difficult and can be managed in addition to a full time job. Anecdotal evidence but - a friend of mine works as a VP of a local consulting firm and also manages to do a great job as an Alderman.

It's a democracy - cast your vote.


Learn to love your monopolist overlords.

Cable monopolies are not government-created. They are government-backed in limited circumstances. In most of California, for example, there is hefty competition for cable/satellite services and high-speed internet, despite cable television monopolies.

>Notice that they charge ever higher and higher fees, in part because the municipalities are on the take here and get a cut of the fees, but also because the demand is inelastic. If you live in Austin and you want cable, they have your business.

Notice that every year, content companies demand more and more money to carry their channels. ESPN alone probably accounts for 5% of most cable bills. Maintenance of hundreds or thousands of miles of cable is also very expensive. Upgrading all of that cable infrastructure is even more expensive.

>So, there's no reason to spend the money to have enough technicians to ensure they are able to do a good job and a timely one.

More money spent on technicians = more money paid by consumers. Yet you complain about higher fees. At some point, you must recognize that there is cost to pay for all of the services you demand. Technicians do not work for free.

>But you don't hear this issue at election time. Why do people not hold their city council peeps accountable for imposing this overpriced monopoly on them? My guess is that most don't realize it is a government created monopoly, and the ones who do, many think that there would be no cable if the city hadn't given those rights away as an incentive to install all the cable. (not the case... places where this doesn't happen, still get cable because it isn't that expensive to put in the cable.)

Simple solution: don't subscribe to cable. Cable is not a right. It's a choice that is not forced upon you. Alternatively, subscribe to satellite, use the free OTA signals, or learn to live without live TV.

> More money spent on technicians = more money paid by consumers

Entirely wrong. This story is littered with false economies. E.g.: Rather than giving him good tools, they wasted the technician's time. And another technician's time. And more later, to get the helpful tech back his tool. And let's not forget that the whole error was caused by a poorly trained tech who ruined the tool. And that's before we get to the large amount of customer time wasted.

Of course, when you're a vastly profitable monopoly, who gives a fuck? There's little reward for internal efficiency, and there's definitely no reward for caring about the customer's time.

And yes, it's a monopoly. Per the GAO, only 4% of cable marketplaces in the US have effective competition:


In most of California, for example, there is hefty competition for cable/satellite services and high-speed Internet, despite cable television monopolies.

Even if that was true, it would only show limited competition between two government maintained monopolies that happen to imping on each other through historical circumstances (we know that there's no real price competition - what we see is the song-and-dance customer competition characteristic of duopolies). The relative phone and the cable monopolies are maintain through the state granting right-of-ways to a limited number of companies.

Your use of "government-backed" in supposed contrast to "government-created" is just verbal slight of hand, a pedantic distinction that does not make a difference (a maneuver that seems sadly popular here). The enterprises (cable and phone for that matter) palpably extract a surplus from their positions in the cat bird seat.

(sure, I'm using "monopoly" in the sense of rent-extractor and "duopoly" in the rent of market position. The overall situation should be clear enough).

> In most of California, for example, there is hefty competition for cable/satellite services and high-speed internet, despite cable television monopolies.

Are you kidding me? I currently live in LA and used to live in SD and my choices were either TWC or... DSL. Previously Cox and... that's pretty much it.

Which is hilarious considering my parent's choices in San Bernardino are: Fios, Time Warner Cable, and of course DSL.

Two hours to hook up your cable connection? Oh the torture -- better blog about it.

You have missed the point. Read the article again.

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