Monopolies stink

29 Jul

The monopoly of utility companies has me fired up. This seems to happen to me about once a year. I get upset with one of my utility providers, usually because of something to which I am contributorily, in a very small way, at fault. But we have created a culture where I like to think I deserve better.

If I don’t like the service at a restaurant, I merely pick up and go to another restaurant. The same is true of banks which under-perform, which unfortunately, I have had to exercise that right recently. I also will move to a new spot if a landlord is not treating me fairly. I will find a new doctor if I don’t like the one I have. I’ll rent a car from another provider, if need be.

The free market system definitely has its advantages, one of which is the ability to not have to work with someone once we decide we do not want to do so. This is a pretty cool thing. I have nightmares of being forced to deal with someone after the natural course of our dealings has run, and I really can’t stand the thought.

The one exception (well, there may be more, but they are all I can think of) to this concept in this country is utility companies. When I end up having a run-in with the water company or the power company, I can complain all I want, but at the end of the day, there isn’t anything I can do.

Almost four years ago, I had an issue with the local gas company. It seems that I paid 13 cents short on a bill (actually their accounting department just doesn’t understand fractions). So that the when the next bill came out, we were in “late” status, meaning we had to pay them about ten days earlier to avoid being shut off. Knowing I had paid the bill, I did not treat it special.

They ended up shutting off my gas, meaning no hot water for showers (or drinking, if that is your cup of tea). The payment had already been mailed to their offices in Tampa, and they received it later that same day they had shut me off. Yet, they made us wait almost four days before my showers became warm again.

Earlier this week, we had an investment property that we sold, and when I called to shut off the power, they decided to shut off the power in my house instead. Now, it may make sense to some people to turn off the power to a house that has a wife and three kids living there, but to me that seems nonsensical. Nevertheless, when I called them, they made me pay them forty dollars to turn it back on. According to them, I did not clearly communicate that it was the investment where I wanted the power turned off.

Now, you may notice that in both of these cases, (some would say) part of the issue was on me. But in both cases, a reasonable person would say that the part I played was exceedingly minor. This is the issue with utilities. I cannot change. So, no matter how irritated they make me, I just cannot amend my service. With most companies, even though I play a small part in that misunderstanding, I capitalize on the fact that their bigger issue was at play.

In fairness, on the other side of the equation, I have often lost money in a business deal when someone didn’t communicate what they wanted well, and I made a decision based on that. That is how it works, unless of course you have no competition and I have to pay $40 because your person answering the phone is a moron.

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