Saturday, January 31, 2009

Free markets not so free

I had to wait in line for little over half an hour today to return my Charter cable TV receiver and modem. Our bill for cable TV and internet jumped from the $79 promo to $140 at which time I decided to switch to DirectTV ($39) and naked DSL (without a voice line) from AT&T ($37). I also subscribe to VOIP phone service through Packet8 for $20 a month. These 3 services from 3 different vendors cost me roughly $100 a month, yet Charter's TV and internet service cost $140! So, I wasn't surprised at all to see so many people waiting in line to return their cable boxes. A lady waiting in line even commented about how Charter is a monopoly and how glad she is to get out of it... which reminded me how unwillingly I signed up for Charter as it is the only cable TV provider servicing our subdivision. I also had a long held grudge against AT&T for unsuccessfully trying to stick me with an exorbitantly large phone bill that shouldn't have been. So my choices were very limited at the time; I didn't want anything to do with AT&T, Direct TV and Dish didn't make much sense at the time and Comcast wasn't even available for us. A few years later, Charter is still the only cable provider for our subdivision, and out of necessity to save a buck and punish one monopoly, I had to subscribe to another. There are many other legal monopolies such as oil and energy companies, airlines, and even Microsoft, that we have come to accept in our daily lives. So whenever I hear people talking about free markets, what comes to my mind is how can we have free markets when we don't even have the choice to choose our cable provider. The day when we can truly choose what we want is still far far away, as monopolies try to divide regions and markets where they can operate in and extort money from consumers without much of a choice.

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