My students would likely be shocked, but for years most Americans had only AT&T or “Ma Bell” for telephone service, and one thing the monopoly required was that you use only their telephones on the lines. And I mean that literally – we had telephones manufactured by Ma Bell’s own Western Electric company, and they were never sold to customers. Instead we paid monthly lease charges for them. I remember what an innovation it was when we could pay to get Trimline push-button phones to replace the old dial sets.
The lease charges over the years meant we were paying for the telephone multiple times over, with millions of extra dollars going to the phone company monopoly. Supposedly this helped subsidize basic phone service and kept its price low, with the same excuse given for the high long-distance charges of that era.
But by the early 1980s all that changed. The Bell monopoly was broken up by governmental decree and consumers could buy any phone they liked and hook it up to the network. My parents bought their Trimline phones outright and used them for some time before replacing them with more modern units. But, distressingly enough, many people never did shuck their rental phones and to this day some consumers are still paying ridiculous monthly lease charges for an ancient Western Electric phone, over 25 years after that became a silly thing to do.
AT&T of course does not bother to remind these people they are wasting money. Consumers have to learn that companies do not serve customers’ interests, but exist to provide shareholder returns and generate profits. So AT&T keeps renting telephones and has also been known to leave unaware customers for years on woefully outdated long-distance calling plans which are ridiculously overpriced compared to not only their competitors but also to AT&Ts own newer plans.
I considered myself a savvier consumer who would not fall prey to such schemes. I subscribe to the online version of Consumer Reports, I keep up with technological changes and innovations, I don’t buy warranty extensions and upgrades already covered by my credit card, etc. But I recently discovered I was acting a bit like a poor old grandpa still renting his telephone. The culprit wasn’t the telephone company this time – it was the cable company.
Long-time readers know that I cut off my cable television service at the start of 2008. But I retained high-speed internet service, paying $53/month to CableOne for a 5 megabit/second download speed rather than the cheaper and slower 3 megabit/second service. I merrily paid my cable bill each month, presuming that their standard charge was $53/month for 5 megabit/second service. But then I was listening to a technology podcast and they mentioned that 10 megabit/second service is fairly common these days.
Hmm…I wondered how much CableOne charged for that level of service. So I went to their website and was surprised to see that they consider a 5 megabit/second download speed their “Standard” service these days, pricing it at $49/month. And they offer their “Premium” 10 megabit/second service for $53/month. What? I’m paying $53/month and getting half the speed (and lower download caps, etc.) that other customers receive?
It was the monopoly game once again – they of course never bothered to tell me I was paying too much for too little. So I called the cable company and politely inquired about this issue. They made no fuss, but also offered no apology, and promptly upgraded me from the old 5 Mbps “Residential Plus” service at $53/month to the new 10 Mbps “Premium” service for the same price.
After they tweaked my settings, I rebooted my cable modem and ran speed tests at speedtest.net and dslreports.com and confirmed that my download broadband throughput had indeed doubled, and the upload throughput was way up too. Now there is less excuse for stuttering streaming video and I can download more data without being throttled back for hitting their daily download cap. But for lord-knows-how-long I was paying full price for half speed, and that burns.
So check your own cable or DSL internet bill against what the company offers for regular customers online (not first-time subscriber or bundled plans, but the regular charges). You may find you are on an older plan and thus being gouged compared to later customers. If so, call up the company and politely demand to be upgraded. And please don’t make the call on a rented Western Electric phone.