I pay just under $60 per month for internet service, compared to some users in other parts of the country that price would be fair for 12Mbps download speed, unfortunately my ISP provider (Mediacom – http://mediacomcc.com) could possibly be one of the worst providers for internet service in the United States.
Let me explain, over the last several months I have called/tweeted the company (they are better help on Twitter then over the phone) on at least two dozen occasions, typically around Midnight to report outages. Unfortunately the company finds midnight to be a relatively “off-peak” time and often shuts down its network to make changes. Strangely enough during “off-peak” hours when I try to call the company I’m often met with the message “our lines are full please call back later.”
When the network isn’t completely shot to hell my average download speed ranges from .87Mbps to just over 5.3mbps. When I do get a hold of a customer service rep on the phone or through @MediacomSupport (Twitter), I am told “we are aware of the issue and are working on it” a message that has rang false for the last 6 months.
In the good old days of DSL and even traditional landline phones if I wasn’t happy with the service I could simply choose a different provider. As many of you may recall when Ma Bell was split apart the telephone lines running to homes were easily accessible to other providers, if you were for example sick of Verizon home phone service you could pick up AT&T or Fairpoint or any number of other providers in your area. Unfortunately for cable users that isn’t the case for cable service, that’s because cable companies own the lines that run to your home and therefore own your business. In my little town of 2800 people (we are 14 miles from a larger set of twin cities) our only choice is Mediacom or the much slower and expensive DSL service provided by Fairpoint Communications.
Yet there are no laws in my state (or others that I am aware of) that would allow me to simply call another company (Comcast is located 14 miles away) and switch to their service.
The problem is that cable companies have traditionally been franchises or “leased” by local government or utilities commissions, this has typically meant that you have one provider in your area (this fact has begun to change in larger cities and suburbs). Sure you can change to a satellite provider however broadband internet is not yet a reality with satellite systems.
What that essentially means is that local governments can create “mini-monopolies” in which one cable provider is given free reign over the network. You may have noticed on your cable bill a “franchise fee” that part of your bill is going directly into the city’s bank account. Essentially your local government is reaping the benefits regardless of what provider they allow. There is a federal guideline created by the FCC that states a local cable company is subject to “effective competition” in the area, however with the advent of satellite providers it’s easy to call something “effective competition” even when it doesn’t offer basic tenants of that competition including high speed internet.
In fact the FCC on its own website states:
If you are not satisfied with your cable rates, look for alternative multichannel video programming services that may be available in your area, such as competitive cable services, satellite television services and open video system services.
Furthering the dilemma is the fact that the FCC does very little in the way of regulating “customer service” in fact in the FCC’s cable television regulations they specifically state:
The FCC has developed general guidelines for customer service that deal with, for example, how quickly a cable operator must answer its phone or respond to requests for service, and how a cable bill should be written. It is up to your local franchising authority to enforce the guidelines in your community. Therefore, complaints about customer service and billing disputes should be directed to your local franchising authority. (this guidelines dates back to 1994 and can be found here: http://transition.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Cable/News_Releases/nrcb4009.txt)
Essentially your local franchising authority is responsible for your satisfaction with your cable provider. This is often why cable rate increasing, basic cable pricing and other issues are heard during city council meetings.
Unfortunately because the cable provider is not necessarily answering directly to the FCC on all issues regarding the operation of its network and because cities are often ill-equipped to deal with complaints customers in areas with only one cable network franchise are for better lack of a word screwed.
From a business standpoint running cable/fiber optic is not cheap and franchise owners have long argue that they can only recuperate their expenses for service lines by controlling territories, however the company’s have done a fine job of dealing with expenses by charging for everything from DVR and HDDVR boxes to early termination fees. In fact after more than 12 months of incorrect billing in which Mediacom was charging me for options that were listed on my contract as free I was only able to remove my cable TV service (I now use Netflix and Hulu Plus) after paying half the early termination fee, they decided to eat the other part out of “respect for my situation” which is ironic because they created the situation.
When all is said and done I was overcharged by Mediacom by more than $100 because of the services incompetence, I was forced to pay half the termination fee to end cable service even though they fully acknowledged the issues were related to problems on their service and I was left with cable service that under delivers by 60% of it’s promised 12Mbps download speeds.
My anger over Mediacom has quelled in recent weeks as I near the decision to contact a representative willing to go after the company for failing to meet their advertised speeds. Whether my journey ends with the start of a class action lawsuit or other measures being taken against the company, what I do know however is that increased competition in my area would have saved Mediacom and myself over 100 hours of phone calls, troubleshooting and other issues if I could have simply said goodbye to a worthless service provider and picked up Comcast (by all means not perfect either) which is just 14 miles away from my tiny little town on the outskirts of a much bigger city.
Have you had similar issues with your ISP/Cable Provider? Share your comments below and feel free to reach out in frustration through my Twitter handle: @Techobsessed.