TBT: The Brutal Truth

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Beginning Of The End ...

On or around April 13th, TBT will be on hiatus ...

TBT and Charter Communications has a long sordid history that repeated itself over the last 24-48 hours. Between 2-7AM yesterday morning, Charter not only disabled our single digital cable reciever but also my internet service. What for? Charter claims we're not paying our bill ... but Charter's billing practices are the problem.

Right in front of me is the bill they printed on March 13, 2006 (which I would've scanned and posted here if the assholes at Lexmark provided downloadable drivers for an LX1100). I recieved this on or around March 20th. By flipping the bill over to the back, it shows the billing in detail. The package we've got here is their HBO/Cinemax And STARZ SuperPak along with their 3MB Down/256k Up internet service. This comes out to about $99 a month. Without the digital service, my mother loses Lifetime Movie Network and my internet service goes up in price. Either way, Charter's got the deck stacked at $80-$100 a month no matter what.

The detailed billing information also shows the dates. So, on this particular bill -- printed on March 13th and recieved on around March 20th -- the billing period is between March 21 thru April 20th. Do you see the obvious problem? Of course, you do: Charter Communications is demanding advanced payment for a month's worth of services that they haven't even delievered yet ... and that payment is due upon reciept of the bill!

In other words, Charter Communications, like most capitalist businesses, sanctimoniously claim to have more rights and more entitlement to your money than you do, sometimes before you even earn it! If you don't give into their Kafka-esque demands within 2 weeks after getting the bill, they'll cut your service. If you make a small payment, it doesn't matter. They want their $100 paid in full within 2 weeks of getting the bill or they'll interrupt the service.

Who in the hell do they think they are -- an insurance company?!? A cell-phone conglomerate?!? An online retailer?!? Those are the only business that can justify advanced payment for their services because it's a no-brainer. But for a communications company to engage in this is ridiculous.

Would you tolerate your favorite grocery store sending you an invoice where they pre-charge you $200-$300 for a month's worth of grocercies and demand that you come in, pick them up, and run your debit card through the machine (as a form of formality/"good faith") within two weeks or else be banned from shopping there ever again?!? Would you tolerate NewEgg.Com to pre-bill and slowly ship to you over the course of two weeks $400 in computer upgrades exactly one month before you even got the $400 to spare (and only ship half of the equipment because you didn't launch their website and formally order the parts within that two week time frame)?!? Like hell you would ...

Of course, a Charter Communications PR flak would defend the company by saying that the billing practices are ethical in comparison to most business standards and that Charter's billing policy (e.g. charging people ahead of time before tendering services) is a means of establishing good faith relations with its customers.

I used to do marketing research so I know a good pile of Public Relations bullshit when I see it. In such a case, the Charter PR flak is just saying that Charter customers shouldn't be concerned and instead should happily tolerate being charged ahead of delivery of services all under the self-serving corporate rubric of "good faith". To put it differently, Charter is saying, "Show us good faith by paying us now and we'll recriprocate that good faith over the course of the next 30 days with service. Next month, the process begins anew."

Tell me: would you have "good faith" in doing business with a company that has the SEC breathing down, whose ridiculous payment terms have gone on long before I started devoting attention to them here on TBT, and as of this very moment appears to be swimming between $18-25 Million in debt?!?

No, you would not and, if you live in Michigan, you definately would not. Why? Because unlike other states in the USA that get to enjoy the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, we Michiganians/Michiganders get to enjoy only two fucking seasons: Winter and Construction. With the Construction season comes potential interuptions or outages of cable or other communications-based service, usually because some nitwit contractor on I-94 or I-75 sliced a fibre. Service can be down for hours or days depending on a myriad of factors, meaning you're going to get pissed off, call up Charter Communications, and demand an explaination, make some serious demands like having your account pro-rated with the loss, or for them to give you something else.

Whether they give in to your demands is contingent upon the mood of the underpaid Level 1 tech. They might; they might not. If they don't, tough shit -- they still got your money because Charter demands payment ahead of time, are often the only game in town in some areas of the USA, and whose PR flaks will justify it all because of their outlandish debt. In other words, you and I -- the customer -- become personally and financially responsible for the lack of personal, finacial, and ethical responsibility of Paul Allen, Wally Weitz, Warren Buffet and the rest of Charter Communications' shareholders and pro-capitalist appologists. In other words, Wall Street tramples Main Street. Empower the rich and embalm the poor.

George Carlin said it best: "Pfffffffffffffttt!!!"

If Charter wants to bill me between March 21st and April 20th, fine. But they sure as hell aren't under any position whatsoever to demand payment for it on March 20th and won't ever recieve such payment until April 21st or later. And that brings me to the announcement that TBT will be going on hiatus: if Charter Communications does not recieve the whopping $28 overdue ballance -- that's right a biiiiiig $28 ballance -- by April 12th, one of their techs will come out and disconnect the service entirely at the tap. Yes, because I guess Paul Allen is $28 short of buying another worthless, gas-guzzling, water-polluting yacht and slinging Arby Melts and curly fries for slightly above minimum wage is for other people.

Until then, I'm just gonna try making the best of what's left of my time. While T.S. Eliot mentioned the world ending with a whimper, I'm going out with a series of loud fucking bangs -- the video camera is on the charger, the YouTube account is secure, and all I need now is a good AVI to MPEG/MOV converter ...


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