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Local power

True story time.

I live in one of the most geographically isolated towns in the continental United States. It is so remote that before the days of the world wide web, major shopping trips meant a three hour trip. One way.

Internet access has always been a problem. The local cable company provided the most reliable service available. On a good day download speeds were between three and five megabits. In the afternoon it would usually drop to around one megabit. On most evenings it would drop to half a megabit and sometimes to around .2 megabits.

Yes, you read that right. Dialup speed or
slow dialup speed for “high speed internet.” Sometimes it would get worse.

Over more than a decade and many many many complaint calls, I learned things about the internet. I also replaced all the cable and connectors in my house with high quality commercial grade stuff. I even added a commercial digital signal booster.

I learned that while my cable company was a national operation, it specialized in smaller rural locations. I learned that company couldn’t match the service available in most metro areas. I learned that the local office literally wasn’t allowed to talk to customers except on service calls at your house or if the customer walked into the office. Calls to the local office were routed over the internet to the help center. I learned that help center calls almost always meant they wanted me to unplug and disconnect the cable modem.

I learned that cable modems were not meant to be operated by customers. Unplug something to turn it off? Disconnect cables on the back? No coaxial cable passthrough despite that the cable company strongly advises against a coaxial splitter, even a high grade one? What kind of lousy design is that?

I also learned that if you had a WiFi router, the service reps would routinely blame interference instead of their own system. They would always want a computer hooked directly to the modem. This is worth mentioning. If you use a Speedtest app or Speedtest.net, it will give three speed measurements. These measurements are ping, upload, and download. If the ping and upload speed each stay relatively the same while the download varies wildly from .01 to 6.00 megabits, it’s not your network.

I learned that the cable reps
will lie unless you confront them about this fact, and then they might admit there is a capacity problem. Sometimes.

I learned that 93.7% of the time, even if they never sent a serviceman to the house, the service would improve ten to thirty minutes after I called. For maybe two or three hours. Yes, I kept track.

Things should get better. The cable company has sold the local operation to another company that is bringing in fiber connections. That won’t mean fiber optic to all the homes just yet, but it can provide stable service at a higher speed through the cable network. I would be thrilled if I actually got the CURRENTLY ADVERTISED service of five to ten megabits per second. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that with the sale, the quality has gone down again. A half hour show stalls on Netflix. More times than not I have to use my iPad Air or iPod Touch to route the signal to my AppleTV. About half the time that stalls too.

No one at the cable company has any incentive to fix the problem. In a month or two another company will run things. They are no longer tweaking to make the system run. There is no incentive to listen if I complain. No one has skin in the game, they’ve no stake to keep my business. I can understand. Things will get better, I just have to be patient.

But then there’s my bank. Different situation, but it helps show my point.

My debit card shows an expiration of November 2016. Well, at the end of March I had problems with some Amazon purchases. I called the local branch. It turns out that the bank was switching to the new style smartcard with the EMV embedded chip. I could understand that.

Except they claimed they had sent a letter in February telling me this. And I should have received my new card no later than March 20th. I received no letter and no card. So they ordered me a new card. To prevent problems I asked the card be sent to the local branch instead of my address. No problem they said. It would take seven to ten working days.

Time passes, as it often does. No card. I did get a PIN number in the mail. I had been calling the bank regularly. Finally they said “Oh, the processing center showed the card got sent back.” So we ordered the second replacement card. “No problem, we’ll expedite this one. Five working days. And I’ll personally keep track on this one!”

No card. I’m going to call the bank again in a bit.

First, the bank isn’t creating the cards. They outsourced that.

Second, two tries is more than enough to get it right. Three is unacceptable. Three failures with at least two lies thrown in are enough to trigger my famous temper.

Third, I seriously doubt that anyone at the local bank branch has the power to change things and you know, actually overnight my replacement card. I’m pretty sure you’d have to go up at least three more levels to find anyone with that authority, and I doubt they are in Arizona. Everyone concerned will get paid regardless of if I get my card today or in the next fifty years. There’s a whole pool of people trained to juggle and delay while “the system” handles my problem. No one has authority or responsibility.

This is the problem with companies that aren’t managed locally. By nature large companies shift power and responsibility away from local operations for efficiency. Without drastic measures, no one that the customer sees is likely to control anything. This is why the local chain store manager can’t control the store inventory or make special orders. This is why local charities are better off going to the corporate office for donations even if there is a plant just down the street. And this is why no one locally can solve any unusual customer problem.

The goal becomes shutting the customer up instead of resolving the problem.

By the way, this goes further than companies.

It’s why some politicos and technocrats believe the state and Federal governments exist. Not to solve problems, but to gather money and power while shutting up the citizens.

Something to think about this Friday.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a phone call to make.

Edited to correct spelling and grammar issues. I was very angry when I wrote the original.
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