In the wake of my long debacle to get new voice and broadband services from CenturyLink, detailed in my five-part article, I was reminded that many consumers in the US are still served by what, in effect, are telecommunications monopolies.
Even though large operators (often backed by legal disclaimers) say that there is plenty of competition in local markets, my own reality was to have no viable alternative for fixed voice and data communications services. With no competitor looking over CenturyLink’s shoulder, I was virtually forced to beg for service for more than a week. And I must settle for 3 megabit broadband access.
It isn’t this bad for most consumers
Fortunately, the competitive landscape is different for most consumers. In most local markets, at least in metropolitan areas, they can choose from among at least two fixed-line providers: their local phone company and the local cable operator. In some cases, there are additional alternative private – and even public (municipality- and public utility-based) – broadband providers. Rather than pleading, those lucky consumers can simply change providers without too much sacrifice.
As for pay TV, even though most areas have only one cable operator, all of them face competition from two strong satellite TV competitors: DISH and DirecTV. Plus now, Telco IPTV is a full-fledged competitor to cable and satellite, and direct-to-consumer (OTT) distribution brings a steadily-increasing range pay TV and local broadcast programming. I’m sure that this level of competition motivates at least most of them to improve continually.
On the mobile side, the US has four national cellular carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile – and the healthy competitive battle among those ensures that, if one of them provides doesn’t reach or provides inadequate services, there are others to choose from.
Stay tuned for the next battlegrounds
So, the battle among service providers in the physical world is well engaged. Now, all eyes should turn to the FCC, as it fights to reassert authority over the ongoing consolidation of the media industry, and Net Neutrality. Whether or not operators like Comcast and Verizon are purposely degrading service for content that they don’t originate or profit from themselves are two sides of the same coin.
But those are stories for a different day. (Ed: As it turned out, it was a story for the next day.)
Furthermore, Centurylink wasn’t done with me either.