Monday, July 13, 2009

Competition - The American Way

Despite my self-professed status as a Luddite, I am, like most middle-class Americans in or around big cities, awash in the warm ionic Sea of Electronica: We have a landline, cell phones, an alarm system; we have TV sets, two of which are hooked into a digital cable service, as are our computers. We have iPods, albeit they are small ones. Haven't gotten a Kindle yet, nor the iPhone, but I foresee some variant of both of those in my future. An e-reader for me is a matter of when they get a few more kinks worked out, one or two more generations; a smart phone when I feel like I can afford to waste more time on the internet ...

Back in the day when Ma Bell was the only phone company -- even with the Bell babies spun off, your choice regarding the telephone was simple: Pay whatever they asked, or do without. My mother still hesitates to stay on a long-distance call because she remembers when half an hour across country was worth dinner for two at a good restaurant.

This must be costing you a lot, she'll say.

No, Mama, it costs me about three bucks an hour, and if I wait and call this evening, nothing at all.

Regulation, de-regulation, upstarts hither and yon, and now the options for connections to the rest of the world are, if not unlimited, considerably more than ever before, and for relatively much less. Comcast now has wireless high-speed coverage over most of the Portland and outlying area, as does Clear™.

Western Union stopped sending telegrams because there was no longer a need. The US Post Office is losing its ass -- and ours, since we are paying for it -- because email is ever so much easier and cheaper than a first class envelope. I once wrote a dozen letters a week and sent them forth via USPO auspices. Now? I might write one paper letter to be sent via snailmail a month, and that only because my mother refuses to get a computer so I can email her.

For a long time, I kept paper printouts of all my email. Now, I dump them onto a CD every so often and when they get filled up, stick them in a box somewhere. It will be easier for Spotlight to search an entire CD than to dig out one box of paper with one-tenth the info from the garage and go looking for something in it.

If you live in an urban or suburban area of any size, you have choices as to the kinds of connectivity you want, from landlines to wifi to all kinds of wireless networking via your cell phone or computer. (I have a friend who lives far enough out in the sticks that his computer can only connect to the internet via dial-up modem, which is glacially slow -- and even so, that is fifty times as fast as my first modem would allow, and he is able to connect. He's found a way around it -- he takes a USB stick to the library, downloads or uploads stuff from it, takes it home. Slow, but -- we're talking gigabytes of memory on a device the size of a pencil stub.)

All of which is to say that if you look around, sometimes you can find a deal that will save you some money.

The only reason I need to keep a landline at all is for my general paranoia, and my alarm system's monitoring service, and I expect in the not-too-distant future, that alarm can be made wireless, too. That landline and the odd long-distance call we make using it are spendy, since it is still part of AT&T, and they have always held themselves up as the premium service. However, Comcast Cable offers a bundle -- TV, computer link, and landline phone service that, if we elect to get it and bag AT&T -- will essentially cut our total connectivity bill in half. In fact, the new bundle, even at standard prices and not the barker's low-ball one year rate, isn't much more than the cable TV bill alone. So we essentially get the computer and phone for nine dollars a month.

We get to keep the same phone number, and since our cable has gone out infrequently in the ten years we've had it, everything being underground, it certainly seems hard to beat.

Great living here in the future, ain't it?


Anonymous said...

I'm the same way, Steve: keep the land-line "just in case," use cell phones until they wear out on principle, etc. Of course, I'm first in line for whatever video game system comes down the pipe. Go figure.

That whole service convergence gimmick worries me. I don't much care for my cable or phone provider, so the thought of letting them foul up three things rather than one is not all that attractive. Being nickel-and-dimed by Verizon or having Time-Warner flub my billing gets my goat, but that leaves me with no loyalty to either.

I'm sure I could be swayed to one side or the other if it was made pathetically easy for me to do, however. Of course, for that to happen, I'd have to stop my habit of only waiting one second after saying "Hello" before hanging up the phone -- a little anti-telemarketing strategy I have -- so I could talk to an operator.

steve-vh said...

Dumped our landline 3yrs ago for Vonage. Haven't regretted it for even one second. Nice feature is if the phone is busy or dead (meaning the kids neglected to put it back in the charger), vonage sends the caller to an automated voicemail that then sends me a voice email. And the few brief times our power was out, we had it forward calls to a cell number.

Mick said...

For the time being you may have to keep the land line as Comcast may not be compatible with your alarm and faxes 9if you use one). They're using bogus VOIP in most areas.