10 Things We Hate About ISPs and Cable and Phone Companies

All Talk and No Walk

Hey, wireless providers: Stop feeding me a line about your big plans to install a new cell tower in my neighborhood. It'll never happen. Your coverage and service quality is, in real life, a lot worse than the wonders you guys promised me when I signed up, and it's going to stay that way. Just admit it.

A colleague of mine tells the story of her experience with AT&T. At her house in Alameda, California, she can get regular cell phone service in only a couple of places in her 1100-square-foot, four-room home. One of these spots is in the bathroom, with her face pressed against the window. The other reliable location is on the couch, where she must lean back to get closer to the living-room window. She can't get service in the back yard or the front yard; but if the weather is right, she can make a call from the front porch.

Last fall, a company rep told her that AT&T would be putting up a new tower in March that would greatly improve the service on her block. Months later when the service didn't improve, another rep denied that the promised tower had ever been planned. Still another rep told her that the provider deemed the quality of her service "moderate"; when asked whether there was any service level lower than that, the rep explained that in her world "moderate" was as low as you could go.

Draconian Pricing Schemes

It's the classic phone company gambit: You can use our network for 2 cents a minute for 1000 minutes a month, but that 1001st minute--and every one after it--is going to cost you plenty.

Debra Costner, a Web publisher from Sonoma, California, writes in to remind us of this pain: "How is it they can charge you 2 cents a minute for the first 1500 minutes and then 25 times that price for the next 200 minutes?" Costner asks. "It really should be outlawed! They ought to be forced to charge the overage minutes at no more than double the price you're paying for the initial minutes--and they'd still be making money. Or even better, bump you up to the next level and let you pay an additional $30 for another 1000 minutes instead of charging you $100 for 200 extra minutes."

Through the (Appointment) Window

Service providers: Stop making appointments that your people can't keep.

Just this morning I waited for the cable guy to come and pick up two of the service's boxes--and after having stood me up on two previous days, he actually materialized! His appointment window was from 8a.m. until 10 a.m.; he called at 9:55 and showed up at about 10:10. I left for work late, but feeling as if anything were possible after all.

Of course not everyone is so lucky, as I learned from a number of people who wrote in. Here's food service business owner Lisa Jessick of North Easton, Massachusetts:

"I don't know how the cable provider Comcast can think I have nothing better to do than stay at home for a 3-hour window for the representative to show up 15 minutes after the 3 hours ends and then start working for another 60 minutes," Jessick complains. "Because I have to contact the cable provider and this is all they offer, I have no alternative but to accept it. When there's no competition, the provider can do anything they want and I have to take it."

Ah the simple joys of monopoly/duopoly. When you're practically the only game in town, you can count on your humble subscribers to wait for you. Drug dealers are keen on this sort of customer relationship, too.

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