commentary by Steve Effros Mono-A-Mono Yes, I know, it’s "mano-a-mano;" Spanish for "hand to hand," as in fighting. But that’s what I am ready to do with those who insist on continuing the myth of the cable "monopoly." "Mono," it should come as no surprise to anyone, is defined as "one, single, alone." If there is one thing the cable industry is not, it is "alone" in the offering of video, Internet or phone service, and yet this term "monopoly," used as a pejorative, thrives. The dictionary definition of monopoly is very straightforward. "Exclusive control by one group of the means of producing or selling a commodity or service." We might like it if that were true, but that is not in any way a description of our business. What got me going this time was a column in The Washington Post a week ago from an angry cable modem customer in Montgomery County, MD, just outside of DC. She’s a teacher. She used her cable modem to avoid commuting to the college where she teaches. The service went down and she had a very bad experience trying to get it fixed. It took the cable company, according to her, 20 days to get things straight; truck rolls, contractors who couldn’t fix things and lots of telephone calls. I do not question the story. When an industry is servicing millions of people with high-tech gear, things go wrong. This was one of those times. But her demand for regulation by the County, including service times, rebates, and the like is way over the top. Her complaint: "…20 days without service amounts to almost 20 percent of the semester." The rebate she received, she complained, "…was poor recompense for the hardship to almost 40 college students, and to me, whose end of the semester was thrown into turmoil." Here’s the kicker: she acknowledged that not only was a competitive DSL service available (that she pointed out was not as fast as cable…) but there was also a competitive cable operator in the area offering modem service! "… these companies have monopolies (my emphasis) on their product.." she said, and therefore the county government should impose strict penalties. Excuse me? Monopoly? Her students suffered because she chose not to drive and not to seek any alternatives? And this is the "monopoly" cable operator’s fault? I hope she doesn’t teach English! Even the Post, in an editorial last weekend, while taking gratuitous swipes at cable-modem service ("…it’s unreliable and goes out several times a day, say some…") argued against government control, noting there are competitive alternatives and the market should fix the problem. But the Post, too, failed to do its homework. OK, it now seems to understand what the word "monopoly" means, until the next article slamming cable comes along, but the service characterizations apparently weren’t checked either. It turns out that the County consumer affairs office has gotten a grand total of three – count them folks, three complaints about modem service in the last month! 26 for the first five months of the year! This is out of tens of thousands of customers, and a 300% increase in new customers. 93% of customers in a recent survey said they would recommend the service. Regardless, the County Council has decided to impose customer service standards on cable modems – but not DSL modems. That shows you the power of (misused) words and incomplete reporting. It’s not going to change until we correct those (mis)impressions. One on one if we have to.

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