Life Rant: The Importance of Competition

It’s been a busy few weeks with the Duke-UNC game, midterms and my job search, but I’m back and will be posting more over the next few weeks. First up: a rant I’ve been meaning to deliver.

I don’t’ think anyone really doubts the benefits of competition in markets these days, but sometimes life gives you very clear reminders of how important competition is. I’ve had two in just the past few days (these borderline on major whines so feel free to skim/not read):

1. I’m currently at school at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and live in an apartment off-campus. The only option for internet and cable TV is Time Warner Cable. For those of you have used Time Warner, you probably know how incredibly frustrating every part of the company is. Now, the area around my apartment is under construction and it has disrupted various services while my roommates and I have lived there. For months now, the cable will go out numerous times a day. The TV screen will suddenly go blue and we will have to unplug various cords, jiggle the box or just wait it out. There isn’t any obvious cause for its failures and when we called Time Warner to come check it out, the tech didn’t even both coming and instead just informed us it was due to the construction and we could get a significant break on our payments. In addition, our internet has gone out at various times for hours at a time. It even went out in the middle of finals week for a full day. Now, you can call us just whiny college students, but we’re paying a decent amount of money for a service that fails a huge amount of the time. Is it that absurd to expect our internet and TV consistently?

frustrationSo, we called Time Warner to discuss that option. Let’s just say that Time Warner’s customer service was less than satisfactory. They sent us back and forth between different departments for an hour and finally offered us a $20 rebate, when we were looking for much, much more. Finally, we reached someone who offered us a month of free service, which was closer to what we were looking for. The manager politely told us that for a greater rebate, they’d have to send a service technician out to examine our setup again (they didn’t have much of a record of their tech’s first “visit”). We agreed and scheduled a meeting for the following day. Shockingly, no one arrived and we never heard from Time Warner. They’ll be getting another call this week.

If we could, we would dump Time Warner in a heartbeat and pick up a competitor. Unfortunately, no such competitor exists. I’d love to write a guest column in the Duke student newspaper recommending that anyone living off-campus bypass Time Warner and choose some other provider. I’d love to at least use that as a threat against Time Warner. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Is there any clearer example of why competition matters? Time Warner can offer us sub-par internet, cable TV, maintenance and customer service, because we have no choice in the matter.* Continue reading “Life Rant: The Importance of Competition”