The meeting of over 300 irate customers of Spectrum’s cable internet, phone and television service in the Bluegrass started auspiciously.
Mayor Jim Gray set the tone by reminding the audience and Spectrum representatives of Howard Beale’s famous line in the film, “Network,” where the aging TV news anchor urged his television viewers to open their windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
As it became clear, many of the assembled were indeed angry and frustrated and felt until that afternoon that there was nowhere to go to express their complaints and get a genuine hearing about Spectrum’s poor performance. Each voiced their tales about: arbitrary monthly rate increases, grandfathered Time-Warner packages that were replaced with more expensive and less attractive Spectrum deals, service calls that were either later than promised or complete no-shows, intermittent breaks in internet service, varying internet speeds over the day, channel losses for hours or days, or arbitrary replacement of channels from a customer’s bundle.
It became evident that the two Spectrum representatives were living in an alternate universe from those of us in the audience.
For one thing, they had the audacity to tell us that their commitment in coming to Central Kentucky was to offer “the best of the best” and to “put the customer first” in all they did. For another, their basic pitch was laced with Trumpian claims that they were bringing back customer-service centers from India and the Philippines and were going to locate some of those and other new jobs in the Bluegrass.
They also sketched plans to plow back their (likely enormous) profits into expanding to Eastern Kentucky and adding new services to their growing customer base. Meanwhile, the assembled customers in the Senior Center auditorium heard not a word — not one word — about how they were going to fix the many problems.
Our public servants, though striving to be fair and balanced in moderating the so-called customer-company dialogue, revealed some interesting and sobering facts about the local government’s limited power to compel Spectrum to correct its avaricious pursuit of profit and evident indifference to the many customer complaints.
While many participants talked from the floor about mounting telecommunication charges in the face of fixed incomes and their belief that this key sector of the local and national economy should be treated as a utility, we were told that the Federal Communications Commission severely limits the capacity to regulate these entities, leaving elected officials with only the option of fining such companies or canceling agreements that gave them the city’s telecommunications franchise.
Those of us who remember the range of cable packages — including basic cable — that Insight offered were informed that giants like Spectrum now have big enough clout to reject most community concerns. Though some local government public servants had become mad as hell over this situation or had themselves cut their Spectrum service, there’s little prospect of the mayor’s office or the Urban County Council coming up with any easy remedy.
Our local problems are being worsened in the present national political environment, where deregulation is the watchword and the current FCC head is rapidly giving our airwaves, radio outlets and internet services over to the greedy designs of the titans of the telecommunications industry.
That doesn’t exonerate a riled up public from pressing their local and state representatives to seek out creative solutions to this sorry state or continuing to pressure Spectrum and Spectrum wannabees like Direct TV and Windstream to listen to their customers and respond to their unmet needs. Nor does it give us the solace to live with illusions about the so-called free market and its supposed solutions.
The sorry truth is that we are living with the consequences of the logic of markets now dominated by communications giants, glitzy (and largely false) advertising, and well-paid lobbyists who have helped bring us to our present sad and outrageous state.
Mad as hell? Don’t take it anymore!
Ernie Yanarella is a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, who is trying to watch more television and surf the internet while on sabbatical.
At issue: Herald-Leader article, “At an angry Lexington forum, redefining what Spectrum cable should be”