Sunday, January 07, 2018

I Hate the Cable Company.

I'm writing to complain about Time Warner Cable, a.k.a Spectrum.

Here is a graph of my payments to Time Warner Cable over the last 10 years:

A few words of explanation:

  • The momentary dip around October 2008 was an outage in the wake of a severe storm, in compensation of which TWC didn't charge us for a week.
  • The precipitous drop in September 2011 was when, while I was between jobs, I called the cable company and told them that I could no longer afford their services. I don't remember if I had to visit the TWC office with DVR in hand, but they came through with the reduction shown.

  • The drop in November 2015 was when, in the wake of the Donald Sterling controversy, I permanently cancelled the television portion of my cable service, retaining only my internet service and digital phone line.

The rest of the fluctuations mostly represent TWC's policy of steadily ratcheting up the prices over time -- or, in their telling, the expiration of various "promotional" pricing. It's an application of the "frog in a frying pan" metaphor to price discrimination: Raise rates slowly, and most customers won't complain. But when a customer does complain, reset to the discounted price.

But sometimes the complaint has to be firm. It was not enough a year ago to merely call TWC about the $15/month increase: they stood firm over the phone, and I was that frog. But when I got around to opening this month's bill to discover another $16 increase, I drove 20 minutes in the snow, stood in line for an additional 20 minutes, dropped my modem on the TWC desk and said: "Cancel it." Why, underpaid customer service rep asked. "Because you raised my rates," I replied with admirable self-control. Can I see if there is anything I can do for you? "Make me an offer."

So staring yesterday I'll be paying what I paid in 2016. I have a brand new modem and substantially faster upload speeds.

But this is an ethically dubious business model. I suppose there are people paying exorbitant cable rates because they are rich enough that the bill falls below the noise level of their expenditures. I might even be close to that level of wealth myself, had I not come from a background where there is no such thing as a "noise level" with respect to spending money. But mainly, I believe TWC is basically taking advantage of people who are too old, working too long hours, too confrontation-averse, and/or too trusting in large institutions to give them a fair deal at a fair price.

In my case, it wasn't the money that chafed; AT&T wasn't going to charge me substantially less than TWC, and there would be some service trade-offs. What made me angry enough to stand in that line was the perceived disrespect: We'll charge you more because we can, and because we're betting you're an idiot. I guess I'm still enough of a Southerner for my personal honor to find itself at stake in those situations.

I'm just not sure that's a personality trait that should be rewarded at the expense of social trust and confrontation aversion.