Living in Walkerland

Mad Hatter“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Americans who live in states other than Wisconsin, especially those of a conservative persuasion, may be wondering what life is like living under Governor Walker. Here’s a taste.

On June 2 Frontier Communications (our local telephone provider) accidentally cut off our phone service. No, they weren’t digging a trench or reconfiguring a switch and made a mistake. I could understand that. They misprocessed my wife’s request to move us up to the next level of Internet service (we subscribe to Hughes satellite network through Frontier) and discontinued out voice phone service intentionally. So, I got in touch with them through their online chat (couldn’t call them, of course). The respondent said she couldn’t restore service immediately, but she’d see that it was done by 7:00 pm that evening. It wasn’t. I got back in touch the next day and the new respondent told me restoring service would require a visit from a technician, and I could expect to have service back on the 23rd. Do the math-that’s a three-week outage.

Did I mention we don’t have cell phone service at our house? We have cell phones for the car and can get a signal a mile or two up the road, but at the house? No.

I told them we were without access to emergency services and three weeks was too long. She agreed and said she’d try to get an earlier date. Indeed, service came back on today, so it turned out to be a day short of a two-week outage. This is our second two-week outage this year; the other involved a buzz on the line so loud it was impossible to hear anything else.

Oh, back to Walkerland. While our service was out, I filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission to see if they’d help move the restoration up, or perhaps take an interest in the level of service being provided by a utility they regulate. This is from their response:

“On May 24, 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed SS SB 13, Telecommunications Regulation Reform into law. Under the bill, the Commission no longer set telecommunication rates, performs audits of providers, or investigate consumer complaints. The Commission does not have regulatory authority over the matter you contacted us about.”

I’m certain you know the arguments – regulations only increase the cost of doing business and ultimately drive up prices. Consumers are better off relying on the free market – i.e. choosing providers who offer the best services. Competition takes care of everything. Except, here there is no competition, service is lousy, and there are no alternatives.

To be fair, there are places in Wisconsin where the communications infrastructure is ample, grossly overbuilt in fact. The providers go where the potential for profits are large, and customers in Madison, Milwaukee, etc. have plenty of choices. Here, in the North woods, there aren’t sufficient cell phone customers to warrant extending coverage everywhere. So, here we are in Walkerland. Our governor’s naive confidence in the beneficence of business leaves us literally with no dial tone and no one in government who gives a damn.

“The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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