A long time ago, this blog had a somewhat different direction than it does today. Part of what I tried to do was expose the abusive practices of the large phone companies, and (among other things) try to stop them from basically writing the communications laws that were supposed to regulate them. One of the reasons I shifted directions was because, basically, we customers lost, and I don’t enjoy beating a dead horse. And only now, it seems, is the reality of what happened finally dawning on state officials, as indicated in Karl Bode’s article on the BroadbandReports.com/DSLreports.com site:
We’ve discussed how a significant number of states passed new state level video franchise laws at the behest of phone company lobbyists, but didn’t really realize what they were signing up for. Bills that consumers were told would result in lower TV prices by making it easier for phone companies to jump into the TV business, in many cases were little more than phone company wish lists — aimed at legalizing the cherry picking of next-gen broadband deployment, eliminating local authority (even eminent domain rights) and in some cases eliminating tough consumer protection laws.
The one thing the laws were supposed to do — lower TV prices — never actually happened.
One of the worst of these bills approved by duped lawmakers was in Wisconsin, where AT&T both wrote and lobbied for a bill that essentially gutted all consumer protections in the state under the auspices of cheaper TV. State residents used to have the right to prompt repairs, saw ensured refunds for service outages, mandated notice of rate increases or service deletions, and carriers had to provide a written notice of disconnection. Not any more. Now a new Wisconsin state audit shows that basic TV prices continue to skyrocket:
One Wisconsin legislator (Representative Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie) has introduced a new bill that, he says, “puts people first, not corporations.” Well, if that’s really true, it’s about damn time (pardon my expressiveness, but it is!). All laws ought to do that. Our Constitution ought to do that. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Rep. Hebl’s bill ever gets passed into law.
Here in Michigan, our legislators have been sold a similar bill of goods. About the only thing that did not happen here is that we did not completely do away with quality-of-service requirements. But our wonderful Michigan legislators did pretty much eliminate all other consumer protections. They turned the Michigan Public Service Commission from an agency that was able to help consumers solve most any communications-related issue, to an agency that’s pretty toothless with regard to anything telecommunications-related. Unless you are subscribing to one specific landline service that virtually no one has or wants (PBLES), you now have very little protection against abusive practices by the phone company, unless you want to take them to court or file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office (actually, I think aggrieved customers ought to complain to their state legislators – they made this mess, let them clean it up!).
(Just so as not to mislead anyone, I will say that complaints to the MPSC sometimes do still bring results, but only because the MPSC knows how to reach the top executives at some of the phone companies. The MPSC usually can’t force the phone companies to help you anymore, but sometimes they can present your case to a high enough official that you’ll still get the desired results. And, if you actually do have a quality of service issue – your phone doesn’t work and they tell you they can’t fix it for another month – then the MPSC does still have some authority in that type of situation).
One other point: For nearly two decades, the Michigan Telecommunications Act had a “sunset” provision, such that it automatically came up for a rewrite every four or five years. The phone companies always saw this as a chance to re-craft the law to be even more to their liking, while consumer groups and legislators that felt they’d been “hoodwinked” the last time around saw it as a chance to restore some previously lost customer protections. But a funny thing happened on the way to the latest rewrite – a couple of years ago, the Michigan legislature quietly killed the sunset provision, making the current Michigan Telecommunications Act the one we’ll probably be stuck with for decades to come. This indicates to me that the phone companies got what they really wanted last time around, and had no intention of letting the applecart be upset by disgruntled consumers or legislators in 2009.
Of course, any one of our legislators could, on their own initiative, introduce legislation that would attempt to undo the damage that was done in the last Michigan Telecommunications Act rewrite. But unless they receive enough complaints from affected citizens, I doubt they’ll want to poke that particular beehive (the bees being the big telco lobbyists and lawyers, which would probably come into the state in full fury if there were ever any serious attempt at reform).
One way consumers could make an effective statement is to “vote with their feet”, and refuse to purchase any service from a large company that abuses their customers (especially when there are any other viable options available). But most customers don’t have that kind of willpower – all the “evil corporation” has to do is dangle a shiny enough carrot off the stick (in the form of a great “limited time promotional offer”) and we, like a bunch of stupid jackasses, subscribe to their services.
Like I said, I’m not into beating dead horses – once they’ve been dead long enough, they really start to stink — kind of like our Michigan legislature (and, presumably, their brethren in Wisconsin) when the big corporate interests come around.