Big Brother is manipulating you


Yesterday I went through the aggravating exercise of converting our television to a new system required by our provider, a company not to be named, though it shares the first three letters of “company” as the first three letters of its name.

For some weeks we had been warned by an endless trailer on screen that if we didn’t get their conversion equipment – at no charge, of course – our TV reception would be interfered with until the equipment had been installed. So, I dutifully ordered the box and the remote, which took twice as long as promised to arrive, and set about to install it, always easier said than done.

The installation finally succeeded, after a Helpful Technician for the company, Com…., helped me through it (and before I noticed the toll-free number that would virtually automatically do the same thing). During the lulls in installation, the Helpful Technician, in response to my question, said this new technology was to make it possible for Com…. to bring more programs to our home. “More band-width,” he described as the function of that new box plugged into our TV.

The aggravating task concluded, I spent some time practicing with the new remote, so that I could at least tell my spouse how it worked.

Scrolling through, I came across C-SPAN, truly one of the benefits of the early days of the cable revolution, and happened across a tape of a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing where Senators were quizzing the CEO of Com…., the son of the founder of the company, about a proposed merger of this mega-provider with another mega-media company. The hearing was interesting enough to spend some time watching.

The Senator from Mississippi got his turn to quiz the executive, and proudly pointed out that Com…. got its start as a tiny cable company in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1963. In the hearing room, out of camera sight behind his son, was the Founder of Com…., now a very old and very wealthy man, who was introduced and poked his head into camera view to be recognized. (For over 40 years, Com…. has headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, hardly small town deep south any more).

“Tupelo” rang a bell for me. I had purposely been there one time in my life, in the summer of 1966. I had gone through Tupelo because it was the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the music icon who burst out of obscurity when I was in high school in the 1950s (“Heartbreak Hotel,” and on and on). I liked Elvis. It was probably not the best idea for me to go through Tupelo in 1966 with my grey Volkswagen with Minnesota license plates, since those were tense civil rights times in the deep south. But I came east to Tupelo via Oxford, Mississippi, and continued east to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and arrived home safely.

Back at the hearing, the very-smooth testimony continued. Of course, there were only benefits to this proposed mega-merger. Someone else, from the Consumer Federation of America, pointed out from the same hearing table that the distinguished CEO had left out of his testimony one very important fact, and brought that to the deliberation.

I continued to experiment with the remote, and in the end came to the conclusion that the only reason for the modification was to facilitate Com….’s making much more money from consumers like ourselves, and taking business away from lesser providers, like the local movie theaters and purveyors of videos. Ditto for the proposed merger. Now our house can smell of freshly popped popcorn….

Such is how it is in the land of the free and the home of the brave in 2010.

Things have changed since Elvis left Tupelo in 1948, Com…. was born there in 1963, and I passed through in 1966. They haven’t all changed for the better.

Caveat Emptor. My spouse, who watches more TV than I, but increasingly finds it a wasteland as well, wonders how long it would take for the “free” box to result in higher fees for Com…. service.

In the end, we will all lose, including the monopolists who have virtually an open road to riches.