Archive for Thursday, January 6, 2005

Speak up to be protected

January 6, 2005

Monopoly / noun: This word has various significations. 1. It is the abuse of free commerce by which one or more individuals have procured the advantage of selling alone all of a particular kind of merchandise, to the detriment of the public:.

Source: The 'Lectric Law Library Lexicon

About seven months ago, I published an article in The Leavenworth Times pointing out that Time Warner Cable was charging Leavenworth and Lansing residents twice as much for cable service as they were to residents in Lenexa. I based this assertion on a comparison of my cable bill with my son's cable bill. He lives in Lenexa. In fact, my son received more service than I was receiving for about half as much money. Mike Smith, Lansing city administrator, asked Time Warner for an explanation, but they conveniently sidestepped the issue.

At the Nov. 18 City Council meeting, we were asked to approved a 6-cent increase in the basic rate for Time Warner. I seized on this opportunity to ask the Time Warner representative why our residents were paying twice as much for our cable service than residents in Lenexa. After first denying, she displayed some discomfort and began sidestepping the issue. Mayor Kenneth Bernard asked if Time Warner had a monopoly and could charge whatever they wanted. The representative allowed, uncomfortably, that this was the case. Councilman Billy Blackwell asked why individuals who walked in with their payment were assessed a $3 fee. The representative noted this required a person to handle this money, hence the imposition of the additional fee.

Now wait just a darn minute here. What is going on?

I see two issues at play here: 1) A local business is taking unfair advantage of its customers simply because it does not have competition, and few of its customers are complaining, and 2) Because of its privileged position, this business is arbitrarily adding fees to generate additional profit.

I'm not against businesses generating profit. I'm a capitalist, and I know that no business can survive without making a reasonable profit. I also know that some businesses take advantage of their clients whenever they enjoy a unique position in the marketplace. All of us in business realize that the market is self-regulated through supply and demand, and government-regulated by law. Monopolies take advantage of their preferred position in the marketplace and can charge whatever they can get away with to the detriment of the consumer. That's why the government prevents big monopolies from forming.

As the Time Warner representative was quick to point out, our citizens have a choice between cable and satellite. That may be true, but it's also irrelevant. It does not alter the fact that Time Warner enjoys a cable monopoly in our community. We only have one cable provider, unlike Lenexa, which has two cable providers. In fact, my son told me that when Time Warner was the sole cable provider in his development, rates were much higher. When Everest started offering service in their area, Time Warner cut its rates to remain competitive.

So what's the solution? Essentially, we have three options:

1. Do nothing. Continue to pay whatever Time Warner demands.

2. Let Time Warner know that we are not happy with their pricing and demand lower prices and/ or more service. In order for this to have any real impact, each citizen needs to become involved, not just the City Council.

3. Lansing city government needs to aggressively seek to attract another cable company to give Time Warner a run for their money.

Personally, I'm offended by any business that takes advantage of the citizens of our community. For our older residents, many of whom live on fixed incomes, these high cable bills are too expensive, and purchasing a satellite antenna is also too expensive. As for rabbit ears - forget about it.

The role of government is to protect the citizens of the community, but in order to do that, the community needs to become involved. If you are happy with the service and the price you are paying for your cable, do nothing. If not, call or write City Hall and complain.

- Bob Ulin is a Ward 3 representative on the Lansing City Council.


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