Posts about photography, contract bridge, astrophotography, astronomy, Java development, internet systems.

Internet service has no maverick

If you’re like me, you have exactly two places from which to buy high-speed internet service: your phone company (mine is Verizon) or your cable TV provider (mine is Time Warner Cable).

That sounds like competition, doesn’t it? If you don’t like one, you can go to the other.

Why would I switch?

After nine years (and about $10,000) with Verizon high-speed internet (for a commercial account), I closed up my internet servers and asked to switch to a retail consumer account.

There was no hardware change required, purely accounting and configuration.

At first my Verizon commercial account rep was very helpful and understood my desire for limited downtime. She looked at the back log for a consumer account creation, and postponed my account closure date three days to allow for that.

Once my account was in the hands of the consumer internet division, the company once again became the bureaucratic behemoth that it is. My commercial account rep handed off my call to a consumer/residential rep, and assumed that all would be well. At that point I was told that they could not initiate any action for a residential account until the commercial one was closed. In other words, there was no reason to delay closing the commercial account.

Still, my residential rep promised a call on October 14, my close date, and stated he would “do his best” to expedite service for me. He provided the phone number of his “secretary” to reach him on connect day.

October 14 arrived, and early that morning my internet service was turned off — right on schedule. The day came and went with no call from the consumer rep.

On Tuesday morning, I started calling the “secretary” number. After three messages, I finally got a return call at about 10:30.

Everything seemed to be going well until my rep said that the account would be established “no later than” October 18, three days hence. At that point I said “cancel the order” and ended the call.

I visited Time Warner’s site and ordered cable installation. True, there’s no way TWC could respond any faster, and I have an installer appointment for Friday morning, October 18.

Still, Verizon has lost me as a customer, and besides internet service I’ll move my landline telephone service off of Verizon as well.

Do they care? Should they? The answer to both is “probably not.”

Internet service has no maverick

I only recently learned of the importance of a “maverick” when it comes to competition and markets. I learned about this from a splendid NPR Planet Money podcast, Episode 438: Mavericks, Monopolies And Beer. It tells the story of why the Federal Trade Commission halted a planned merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and Grupo Modelo. It would convert the beer market into a duopoly of two companies: InBev and Miller Brewing.

In this case Grupo Modelo acts as a “maverick” company, forcing the two giant corporations to genuinely compete and innovate, despite being a tiny player in the beer market.

The podcast is twenty minutes very well spent.

The thing about internet service is that there’s a huge barrier to entry for any would-be competitor. Who could be the maverick?

Two words: Google Fiber.

The effect of Google Fiber entering the internet service market in Kansas City and Austin has been exactly the beneficial effect of a maverick in a marketplace dominated by two giants. The big companies find themselves forced to actually make the investments they’ve promised.

Remember Verizon FiOS? Were you waiting for it to arrive at your house? Keep waiting — they’ve long since halted the roll-out. They only built out enough FiOS to get regulators off their backs for a while.

The phone company and the cable company have this in common: They hold a monopoly on service to your home granted by your local government. The opportunities for corruption here are enormous.

We are dealing with a duopoly with no maverick, the two companies have no incentive to compete at all. No one is there to disrupt the market.

Where do I turn when Time Warner Cable can’t perform? Do I go back to Verizon? Sadly Google is taking its own sweet time to add markets, and the hope of having a viable competitor here in Los Angeles county is negligible in my lifetime.

Here are some of the symptoms of the internet/TV service monopoly:

  • No upgrades to service speed or quality in many years
  • Lack of support for high-quality consumer end equipment. (You’ve seen how bad cable boxes are, right?)
  • Forced bundling of TV channels, instead of a la carte
  • Random introduction of “fees” with no regulatory basis

TV distribution has a market disruptor in the form of Netflix (and maybe Vudu and Hulu). But even those disruptive forces have to travel the same broadband pipes that are controlled by the massive duopoly. I don’t have good feelings about recently announced efforts by Netflix to cooperate with cable companies.

(And a topic for another day: sports franchises locking out non-cable customers from televised games.)

Home theater upgrade, part 2, fixing HDMI

(Part one found here.)

First I’ll mention that the AV preamp I started out with, a Marantz 7005 purchased as B-stock from Outlaw Audio, turned out to be hopeless. It would never successfully handshake video output to either of my displays, even with no sources connected. Sometimes on a hard reboot, it would send some video, then [...]

Home theater upgrade story (Part 1)

Old system:

Rotel RSX-1065 receiver
Panasonic TH-50P9UK plasma display
Old Pioneer DVD player
InFocus ScreenPlay 5700 projector
B&W CDM7NT 5.1 system, with broken tweeters on the front mains
Logitech Harmony One universal remote

Why upgrade?

The Rotel receiver has annoyed me for years with its few seconds of silence after mode switches (like Dolby Digital to PCM during a TV broadcast). It’s volume behavior [...]

April Observing: Supernova and a Comet

The weather forecast for our favorite spot, Amboy Crater, called for decent conditions but high winds. (Why do we care about the wind? Here are four reasons I can think of: simple comfort, blowing charts and equipment, maintaining a target in a telescope, and blowing dust.)

The best forecast in the area was at our old favorite [...]

Finally some observing weather

See Jane’s observing report from the same evening — some great binocular observing with Kemble’s Cascade.

The 20D mounted piggyback on the Traveler and Mach One GTO mount, hoping to catch comet PANSTARRS on its first opportunity.

Several months ago, David Green of the Santa Clarita Valley Photographers Association invited me to give a talk on astrophotography [...]

“Why didn’t you just …”

Here’s one post that’s equally valid for bridge and computer programming.

Have you ever accomplished some task and had someone say “Why didn’t you just” do it some other way? Usually their suggestion is assumed to be the obvious or simpler way to do something.

In bridge, maybe you misplayed the hand, or chose a different lead on [...]

Ruby gem problems around libv8, therubyracer, mac vs. linux, native extensions

I haven’t done a techie blog post for a while, and this “solved problem” keeps raising its head at work, so here goes.

Here’s the situation:

A ruby web app
Develop on Mac OS X
Deploy on Linux
Using bundler to control gem versions
Using therubyracer and libv8

You build your app on your Mac, install your bundle of gems using bundler, and [...]

Kaiser Low Calorie Diet, Terrible Execution

Like so many of us, I need to lose weight. My doctor at Kaiser referred me to a new in-house weight loss program, a low-calorie “meal replacement” program. The program appears to be a franchisee of Robard Corporation’s “New Direction” program.

The program itself is very good. The class materials are current and instructive, and the high-protein [...]

Hot, dry astronomy

My piggy back shot of Scorpius taken in the early evening. Note the Pipe Nebula near the center left, a dark dusty pipe in silhouette against the Milky Way. Click for the full-resolution image.

Observing report for June 16, 2012, Amboy, CA

The forecast for Amboy had a high temperature of 104°F and a low of 72°F. [...]

Galaxy season

Jane snapped Mojo waiting for darkness at the Amboy Crater visitor area.

Observing report, April 21, 2012, Amboy, CA

We’ve had a string of bad luck with new moon weekends for the past six months, so when this new moon Saturday showed nearly perfect conditions, Jane and I were quick to pack the van and get out [...]