Service Providers Can't Be Honest With Themselves, So How Can They Be Honest With You?

from the self-realization-time dept

Last week I was wondering why the various mobile operators couldn’t just be honest to customers in explaining the limitations of various service plans. A report had come out saying that people were sick and tired of service providers lying about service and features — and it seemed to me that a company that was honest would get a lot of customers as a result of that honesty. Of course, this also came only a few days after we were wondering why Comcast couldn’t come out and give an honest explanation for why it was jamming certain types of packets. Blogger Tom Lee from the Manifest Density blog, has responded to both things (though, incorrectly refers to Techdirt as being anti-telco, which we’re not at all — we’re anti-telco-stupidity, which is quite different), making a very perceptive point. He basically says that it’s impossible for any of these service providers to be honest with customers because doing so would require them to first admit the truth to themselves: they’re just commodity dumb pipe providers, and all their efforts at pretending to be something more are pretty much meaningless. Until they can admit that (and Lee’s assertion is they won’t admit that), they can’t be honest with customers. There’s definitely a large chunk of truth in there, and it explains part of what the problem is — but I still don’t think that precludes service providers from being a lot more honest, even as they try to provide additional value-added services that might not matter. Being honest and transparent with customers is a good marketing idea for these companies, especially as they’re being challenged to be anything more than a commodity dumb pipe provider. Being honest can actually be a part of their differentiated appeal to customers.

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Companies: at&t, comcast, sprint, verizon wireless

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Comments on “Service Providers Can't Be Honest With Themselves, So How Can They Be Honest With You?”

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John says:

It's consumers!

The real problem is the consumer, the one who’s supposed to demand what they pay for! An ISP, as we all know, is a “Internet Service Provider” there purpose is to provide an internet connection – not anything more, or less. I’ve been through Bellsouth and Charter (Wired World) ISP services and neither ever deliver on what they promise – so as a consumer I demanded it – they didn’t respond – so I dumped it and moved to a 3g CDMA cellular connection. It also has its problems, but at least its not the local telco/cabelco trying to dictate what they want to give me and tell me what I need.

I think when consumers begin leaving in droves and complaining to the FCC and their local public service commission officials then companies will be forced to listen, until then expect them to promise more and deliver less.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's consumers!

The real problem is the consumer, the one who’s supposed to demand what they pay for!

You can “demand” all you want but it won’t do any good without something to back it up.

so as a consumer I demanded it – they didn’t respond

Exactly. Didn’t really do any good did it?

so I dumped it and moved to a 3g CDMA cellular connection.

Which most of the country doesn’t have. The principle though is that a competitive free market could probably fix things. But that is something that the FCC seems dead set against.

I think when consumers begin leaving in droves and complaining to the FCC and their local public service commission officials then companies will be forced to listen, until then expect them to promise more and deliver less.

Most consumers have nowhere else to go and complaining to the FCC will do no good. The political process needs to be reformed with the removal of big-money interests before anything will change much and that isn’t very likely as long as the populace keeps re-electing the same political parties, which they do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Honesty and the Market

They can’t afford to be honest as long as their competitors aren’t. Dishonesty is one thing that a free market can’t fix.

Being honest and transparent with customers is a good marketing idea for these companies

Not as long as they can claim to be so without actually doing it. The problem is the market can’t sort it out because all the providers claim to be honest and transparent even if they aren’t and without police powers of investigation the consumers can’t tell the difference.

What we actually have is a problem of the government allowing fraud. Markets only work properly when there is honesty between traders. In exchange for service I agree to trade some of my money to the service provider. Now, if I’m dishonest and try to pay my bill with something that is not what I claim it to be (e.g. fake credit card, hot check, counterfeit currency) then the government will get all kinds of involved to protect the service provider from fraud and I would stand a very good chance of going to prison. If however the shoe is on the other foot and the service provider does not provide the service they have agreed to then the government tends to just take the position “Oh well, let the market sort it out. If you don’t like it go find another provider. What, they’re all crooked? Or they’re the only one in your area? Too bad.” Now in a free market someone might come along and start up their own competing honest service. But they can’t in this market because of the monopolies on the airwaves the government has granted these companies. Don’t expect these companies to get honest until the people running them are subject to going to prison for even small frauds just like their customers are. There is a place for law enforcement and this is it.

Brian Prows (user link) says:

Honesty or Complexity?

Although there’s been a fair amount of dishonesty, I believe in many cases it’s stupidity on the part of ill-trained cellular reps and what they tell customers. And it’s no wonder. For years, the major U.S. carriers have used spectrum space owned by the public but believing otherwise. Just as broadcasters are licensed to operate “in the public interest” and regulated by the FCC, so should the wireless carriers. But it never happened as the U.S. carriers built their networks. It became a race to grab as much mobile space as possible for domination. Now Google and the carriers drool and fight over the projected $10 billion in ad revenues generated through mobile advertising by 2010. Despite Google’s dominance in search and Web advertising revenues they, at least, have finally agreed to open standards for third party programmers. That move should increase competition, reduce cellular carrier dominance–and, yes, make them more honest.

Scott Gardner says:

Different meaning of "dumb"

Crud – hit “enter” instead of “tab”. I guess *I’m* the “dumb” one!

Seriously, “dumb” in this context isn’t an insult referring to the providers – “commodity dumb pipe” is just a description of the *resources* they’re providing. Specifically, the author is just pointing out that all the various telcos are offering the exact same product – the use of a particular frequency spectrum. It’s the same as buying Coke at Food Lion versus buying Coke at Farm Fresh or Piggly Wiggly. The product is the same no matter where you go – it doesn’t matter how the stores try to differentiate themselves from one another.

Paul says:

Its not lack of honesty, its just business

None of these companies want to be commodity providers, they are all looking for the value add to differentiate themselves. Its not about honesty at all, its simply about trying to charge a premium over your competitor.

What is actually needed is a no frills provider to come out that does nothing fancy and is really transparent. We have such a DSL provider in the UK called bethere, they offer 20Mbit/s ADSL2 with no limits (none of these fair use rubbish).

What is needed is a no frills teleco that doesn’t care about the value adds, it just provides the network cheaper than everyone else.

R. H. (profile) says:

Re: Its not lack of honesty, its just business

I agree wholeheartedly. What we need here in the US is an ISP that will JUST provide a pipe. No premium online content just a connection to the general internet. Even of the ‘average joes’ that I know with Comcast’s service, I don’t know any who actually use Comcast’s premium online content. The only people I know who used their provider’s online content are a couple of people who had AOL until the bitter end.

Overcast says:

Yeah, what’s new…

Bought a few of the old Air Cards from Sprint for a company I worked for years back. Perhaps 9 months later, broadband Air cards came out. I call Sprint – ask them, if we go and purchase new broadband Air Cards, if we can just upgrade our current ‘modem speed’ plan to Broadband.. I get a big resounding ‘No’.

Then she has the Nerve to ask me if I would like to buy the new cards anyway. I told her no, I need to Call another company, and if she thought my company would ever buy another thing from Sprint again, she was nuts. Was the first time I ever had a company tell me no to upgrading current service – that I had to buy new *additional* service instead. We did, just not from them.

Hey… it’s just the truth! Make what you will of it.

chris (profile) says:

this has been happening for years

i read “rise of the stupid network” by david isen, in 1998. i think the paper was a few years old even then. this was BEFORE my neighborhood got DSL or cable, before EVDO, and before VOIP was little more than a concept. the wisdom then is the wisdom now, even if the telcos don’t want to hear it.

read the paper here:

keep in mind that the paper is easily 10 years old.

isen has a ton of other papers and articles here:

the game has changed and everyone knows it. i think the telcos and the media companies know this and they are just trying to squeeze the last bits of easy profit before they have to pay to adapt.

Max Powers at (user link) says:

Companies Avoid the Law

I monitor the FTC website to see what happens to companies that get caught stealing from consumers. As Anonymous Coward stated above, companies get away with stealing from consumers but you or me would be put in jail or prison for doing the same thing.

Most companies wind up agreeing to a settlement the FTC offers which includes a small fine (compared to the amount they stole from the consumer) and the promise to not engage in the activity that they got caught doing.

What kind of justice is that?

So why should they be honest upfront when being dishonest brings so much more money with virtually no risk.

Shun says:


@2: That was awesome!

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that the U.S. ISP market is dominated by a few sad sacks that couldn’t get their heads out of the sand if they were being paid bucket-loads of money (which they coincidentally are).

The solution is to link our individual communities with automated heliostats running Morse code, with some sort of machine translation in between the helio and the user, obviously, since people are too lazy, now, to learn Morse (hey, I’m one of them). That would solve the last mile. On to the transcontinental.

I propose a series of trip-hammers located near the transcontinental railway lines. Every time someone wants to send a long distance signal, a trip-hammer falls on the rail, sending signal, in the form of “sound” energy, to the “destination” which would be encoded in the wavelength of sound, somehow (hey, if TCP/IP can work as a series of 1’s and 0’s, I don’t see how my solution would be any less credible). I propose that a fairly robust system of encryption become mandatory, as it will be easy to snoop just by putting ear to rail.

Anyway, by combining the forces of “light” and “sound” (two inventions which have so much prior art, they are way too un-patentable) as well as the extremely old tech of Morse code (abandonware), I think we can wean ourselves off the telecoms sometime before the next Bronze Age.

You know what? These digital computers are fraught with way too much dangerous crapware (viruses, keyloggers, trojans). We need to go back to the Babbage Machines from “The Difference Engine”. That’ll tech those telecoms.


Paul Medlock (user link) says:

telco spinoffs

I think that this has a bearing on network neutrality. It seems to me that the telcos have a conflict of interest when they want to be both ISPs and content providers. Consequently, it seems logical that they should spinoff one or the other of the two functions to level the playing field. I don’t know who would make that happen though.

me says:

Let's do it!

C’mon, kids, let’s build our own no-frills ISP!

ISP as it should be! No content, no crap (no advertising?) Don’t even need a home page, really, as most people will choose their own. I would think the only thing I would offer – but would give up if out-voted – is email. But it would be equally basic, requiring one to use one’s own spam filtering, etc.

Isn’t that how one did it in the old days? Come up with a great idea, sell stock to finance it? Count me in, who ever has the gumption to start the ball rolling . . .

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