The common understanding among big-government proponents (which includes pretty much anyone who has ever voted Republican or Democrat) is that the civil government actually protects its citizens from greedy corporate interests. But what if regulation is actually one of the ways big business is screwing its customers? Consider the recent net neutrality debates swirling around ATT&T, Verizon, and Comcast.
It used to be that businesses were constructed to give the customers the best service and products possible. No more. Now, the whole point of business seems to be maximizing the amount of money you can get out of a customer and minimizing what this costs a business. AT&T (and Verizon) have said that there is no reason to offer faster internet as a basic service. Of course they would say that. They don’t want to offer a better service for the same money:
If the definition [of broadband] is kept at 4Mbps, statistics on broadband deployment and competition look a lot better, putting less pressure on telcos to upgrade infrastructure. AT&T and Verizon prefer to keep it that way.
“The Commission’s inquiry seeks comment on whether to adopt a new speed benchmark, such as 10Mbps,” Verizon wrote. “The data confirm that the availability and adoption of higher-speed services continue to steadily increase, and it may well make sense for the Commission to monitor progress with respect to such higher-speed services. At the same time, the data confirm that services providing 4Mbps/1Mbps are still popular and meaningful to consumers.”
It’s frustrating how our current business models allow companies to leverage government regulations to make more money for worse services. And it’s a complicated issue. If infrastructure costs prohibit small-time innovators from breaking into a market, the big boys like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast don’t have the same incentives to serve their customer base to maintain profits.
If the only real options for internet or cell phone service in an area are limited to two or three big competitors, what if they collude together to manage the wording of laws and also tacitly agree to offer the same basic services? What could a customer do?
I want to believe it would be better in a completely de-regulated market, but it might not. The selfishness-motivator has largely been removed from this market system because there is no efficient or far-reaching enough mechanism to punish businesses for disappointing their customers. There is no easy way to make the customer the master again. Customers are at the behest of AT&T and the other big boys, not the other way around. What can be done to reverse that trend?