the last word (tm)
16/No. 3 - 436th issue - April 13, 2007
firstname.lastname@example.org - http://members.iglou.com/bandit - Bellevue, Kentucky
Blog blogga blogs at http://bandit73.pitas.com and http://www.myspace.com/bandit41073
PHONE MONOPOLY GETS BUSY...BUSY...BUSY...
Apr. 13 - Cincinnati Bell is like a giant turd that pops out of the sewer and cakes itself all over our sunglasses and laughs in our faces when we have to clean up after it.
The region's right-wing telephone giant has long been a source of constipation for our area's hard-working people like us. Quality of local phone service all over America has declined precipitously since the rogue deregulation of a decade ago, as mergers have nearly erased the progress created by the earlier breakup of the phone industry. But even before the merger-crazy '90s, Cincinnati Bellyache was the local phone monopoly with the national phone monopoly mentality.
While telephone service generally has trended downhill nationwide, the already-miserable Cincinnati Bell has gotten worse along with regionals elsewhere. We don't object to saying so, even though yours truly once worked for this telcom supervillain. Because the phone company is a monopoly, it's always been as fair of a target for criticism by us as the government is. In fact, some states give monopolies government powers like eminent domain. If a business wants the powers of a government, then we should be allowed to criticize it as if it were the gov...ah, never mind.
CensorNasty Bell actually has more powers than the government, as it seems to be above the law. Sometimes it's a pretty minor matter, like when Cincinnati Bell failed to publish the penalties for phone harassment, despite Kentucky law requiring it to do so. But recently this scofflawism became more serious when we received a prerecorded telemarketing call advertising Cincinnati Bull's Internet service.
Prerecorded telemarketing calls are banned by federal law. But we can't remember this law being seriously enforced, so we made a complaint with the Kentucky Attorney General to go after the phone company under state law (which has long-arm powers over out-of-state firms). This law, however, has a loophole big enough to drive Mitt Romney's mangled mouth through. Kentucky couldn't do anything about the phone company, because the phone company argued we had a prior business relationship with it - even though the call was from its Internet division, which we've never used.
Of course we had a prior relationship with Cincinnati Smell! It has a monopoly, so we had to have a relationship with it! Lawmakers should remove the exemption that permits unsolicited sales calls from companies with which you have an earlier business relationship - especially monopolies!
Thus, you may argue that CancerNazi Bell didn't violate Kentucky law, but it put so much effort into exploiting the loophole that it's as bad as if it did.
Customer service only a memory
Even at Cincinnati Bell, customer service once ruled the roost. But that changed years ago thanks to deregulation. It used to be that if your phone line went dead completely, they'd have it fixed within the day. Now it takes days. It takes as long to find a working pay phone just to notify Cincinnati Bell as it used to take to fix the problem altogether. Often, Cincinnati Bellyache's pay phones will just play a robot voice saying, "Error 6," and not give you back your coins. (We told you a few years ago that Covington began requiring all pay phones to be owned by Cincinnati Bell, even though phones run by other providers were usually the only ones that worked and cost less to use. The city's excuse was that pay phones owned by other companies accepted incoming calls, which the city falsely claimed was useful only to drug pushers. Another liberty lost in the name of the failed War on Drugs.)
Notice how many of your calls with Cincinnati Bell get disconnected. We remember people complaining on BBS's in the late '80s that they wished the phone company would "get off its high horse" and fix the problem. Twenty years later, the problem has not been remedied. A few months ago, Cincinnati Bull began disconnecting our calls several times a day. We put in a service order on the phone company's website to have it fixed. They never got back to us and never repaired the problem.
We've found it suspicious that we've gotten disconnected when we're 95% done downloading a very large file, which has forced us to start over when our computer detected a timeout. Then again, Cincinnati Bell is the phone company that conspired with the region's right-wing corporate elite to wiretap local residents' calls in search of "communist" activity. (This scandal was the topic of a 60 Minutes report in 1989.)
You little teethcoster...
We call getting disconnected a teethcoster, implying physical confrontation. Now the phone company has created the most needless teethcoster ever by placing a strict monthly limit on how long users of other Internet providers can stay online. Because Cincinnati Bell is a monopoly for phone service, even ISP's that aren't owned by Cincinnati Bell must run their data through Cincinnati Bell's modems - so Cincinnati Blah controls access to the ISP's. ISP's often set their own reasonable time limits, for they don't want customers hogging the service, but this is the first time we've heard of a phone company imposing a limit on ISP's it doesn't own. The Cincinnati region may be the only place in America where the phone company limits how long users of other ISP's can stay online. Some are quick to blame the many ISP's that are affected, but it's the phone company, not the ISP, that enforces this time limit.
We've had the same ISP for 11 years and have never had trouble with it. That's because it's an independent ISP and has competition that encourages it to provide reliable service. We've checked around a bit, and we've discovered that Cincinnati Bell's diktat applies to every ISP in the area that relies on Cincinnati Bell's equipment, with one possible exception perhaps being Cincinnati Bell's own wretched ISP. If we discover that Cincinnati Hell's ISP indeed has a time limit for customers that is less rigid, we'll know that the phone company began limiting other ISP's just so customers of these ISP's will get frustrated and switch.
Note also that Cincinnati Bell issued this fiat with a week left to go in the month, and it took effect immediately, so anyone who was already over the limit couldn't get online for a week. This happened at just the right point in the month to maximize frustration. Furthermore, the phone company failed to reset users' hours right away on the first of the month. Again, this was not the doing of ISP's that were involved.
If Cincinnati Bell is trying to lure customers to its own ISP by cutting off users of other ISP's for a week, it's got to be illegal. However, we never thought any phone company would pull such a stunt, so we never considered the legality of it (though it sounds frigging close to racketeering). If there is a federal law against this, it probably doesn't matter, because it's not exactly the sort of law the Bush madcap crew enforces.
(A few weeks ago, Cincinnati Bell also forced our ISP to change its dialup number for no apparent reason.)
Another dubious first
So CancerNazi Bellyache is the first phone provider we know of in America that limits customers of competing ISP's. Well, here's another Cincinnati Bell first: It's the first in Ohio to take advantage of a crooked 2005 law in the Buckeye State that lets phone companies raise rates without having to win approval from state regulators. Prior to its uproarious Election Day defeat, Ohio's corrupt Republican machine passed this law, using the excuse that phone companies were facing competition. What???!!! For all we know, there may be some township somewhere in Ohio that offers a choice for phone service. But it ain't Cincinnati.
In other words, a law that ostensibly deregulates competitive businesses is being applied to a monopoly. We're sure conservatives knew this would happen when they passed the law, but why did they have to lie? (Because lying is about the only thing conservatives are good at, perhaps?)
(This doesn't apply to Kentucky, where Cincinnati Bell's phone service is already nearly $30 a month even for low-income customers who go through a program in which the government reimburses the phone company for the difference.)
Meanwhile, Cincinnati Bell's CEO, who was already making nearly $1,300,000 a year, got a 17.4% raise in 2004. The telephone giant has also been posting annual profits in the tens of millions. Recently its fourth quarter earnings doubled.
Sewage, sewage everywhere, and not a drop to drink
The phone company has other problems too. A Cincinnati family filed a lawsuit against Cincinnati Bell, utility monopoly Cinergy, and the Metropolitan Sewer District because the shoddy installation of a telephone pole caused raw sewage to back up into their house and flood the entire first floor. The sewage coated the whole floor several inches deep, creating mold and bacteria that caused the residents to develop asthma. The whole house was then deemed uninhabitable.
More? In 2002, Cincinnati Bullyache began Reaganistically charging customers an extra $2.95 "monthly minimum" for long distance service - even if they didn't make a single toll call the whole month. At the same time, however, the phone company - without telling customers - also used AT&T as the default carrier for long distance. Like Cincinnati Bell, AT&T is also very untrustworthy: AT&T also had a minimum charge, and folks who made one toll call were signed up as AT&T customers and billed every month, even if they never again made another long distance call. People were not told beforehand this would happen. Customers were shocked to find a bill in the mail for AT&T service they never ordered and to keep getting billed each month despite not using the service. (AT&T tried pulling this scam on us at least twice, and we successfully refused to pay the bill.)
How do we stop this crap from hap (as a wise man once said)?
By bipping. Just joking! To combat Cincinnati Bell's apparent abuses against ISP's, the gummint can and should pass a law to prohibit Internet providers from being owned by phone companies (like the restrictions against retailers owning banks). Simply split 'em up. Such a law can also guarantee that customers of phone company ISP's may keep their accounts and e-mail addresses. It's no different from the AT&T breakup of yore.
The law must also require the phone company to fix in a timely manner your phone service when it goes out. Such would be the epitome of fi.
We need to publish a "Fuck The New Economy" edition sometime. Amazing how the first 2 articles in this ish are about the new economy's failures.
Astute readers of The Last Word will note something missing in our letterhead in this ish. If you're among this cool crowd, you'll notice that the link to the Conservative Fool Of The Day blog, with which we had been affiliated since 2005, is now just a memory. That's because that blog is no more, thanks to capitalism's ravages.
The blog was hosted by Blog-City, which is killing off all of its free accounts such as ours and is degenerating into a pay service. This happened because Blog-Shitty is - by its own admission - under new administration. Translation: it probably got swallowed by one of the Internet giants like Yahoo or Google - the same thing that's happened to so many other smaller companies found in the ol' Internets in recent years. (Remember when NBC destroyed Xoom after running that imbecilic "Come on!" commersh? At least NBCi was a free service, for what it was worth.)
We might still have our blog on Blog-City except that, in this new economy, greed trumps smarts. Any outside observer can see that Log-City can still make money as a free service by selling ads (which has worked for TV and radio for decades). Free sites don't have to be money losers. But the prospect of charging for what used to be a free service cartoonishly filled the eyes of Blog-City's new owners with dollar signs. (Ding! Ding!)
Ya know, the government does have the power to review corporate mergers in any industry, but this power is sorely underutilized nowadays. Government agencies smugly decree that we're not allowed to run a nonprofit community radio station (which doesn't hurt anyone), and that we're not allowed to have a beer at a church festival (if it's in a dry county) - yet the government won't regulate corporations buying up everything in sight. Is that fair?
Just a couple weeks before Blog-Shitty made its surprise announcement that it was becoming a pay service, it forced all of its users (us included) to redesign their blogs, because its new software couldn't handle the old blog format. But all the work of making a new layout for our blog turned out to be for nothing. All that work, wastage bastage!
One thing is damn near certain. We can almost guarantee Blog-City won't be around a year from now. Because who in the hellola is gonna pay for what other companies know how to provide for free? (Didn't ON-TV last about 4 picoseconds?) That is, unless whoever owns Blob-City now gobbles up all its competitors too.
Not getting a free blog isn't a Life and Breath matter. Other vagaries of the new economy are. Just ask all the folks who have lost their jobs in other corporate mergers and can't feed their kids, let alone themselves. And we're not saying we had a right to expect Blog-City to be free forever (although the spittle crowd is going to paint our words that way).
We have no plans to resurrect the Conservative Fool Of The Day blog on another site, because voters finally had their say about the Nazism that dominated the country when the blog began. Besides, we're working people, so we don't exactly have time for it anyhow.
Meanwhile - we like the word meanwhile, don't you? MEANwhile!!! Get it? Anyway, meanwhile, the editor of this marvelous zine now has a new MySpace page in addition to his regular blog at Pitas. MyBaste is owned by Rupert Murdoch's loathsome firm, but that's no reason we shouldn't milk it for all it's worth. As people said in the days of helmet hair, point your browser here:
LAWMAKER LINKED TO 'STARCADE' TANTRUM
There's a reason we call The Last Word a newsletter and not a rumorletter. But regular newspapers have reported rumors, and they're not called rumorpapers. For instance, one of the main Cincinnati papers reported a rumor a few years ago that one of the top sports anchormen for a local TV station hired a prostitute when he went to Florida to report on the Reds' spring training. But the paper never specified exactly which sportscaster was involved (though it's fun to speculate).
We too have dabbled in rumor. A while back we told you that a right-wing Kentucky legislator from this area was allegedly sighted at a supermarket plunging her filthy finger into containers of chip dip and then licking her finger to test for freshness. But we didn't report exactly who. We would have needed a little more corroboration before we did that.
It's not like we didn't trust who told us this. We believe the source 100%.
So it is with this story. We're not going to specify who the subject of the latest rumor is, other than to say it's a male Republican state lawmaker in a Southern state who was profiled on the Conservative Fool Of The Day blog. But we think this story is true, because who would go through such lengths putting together phony BBS posts to smear a politician who already discredits himself every time he opens his mouth?
The incident happened on a computer bulletin board system in 1984, when the future legislator was 16. The BBS featured a forum for video game enthusiasts. In one exchange, the budding Newt Gingrich launched an irrational harangue about Starcade. Starcade was a game show in which contestants competed by playing video games. (You may remember our anecdotes about Sister Starcade, an aging nun who was a guidance counselor at Brossart and wore a habit that disclosed a prominent devil's peak resembling that of one of Starcade's hosts. Well, that's the Starcade we're talking about.)
Here's the future lawmaker's post in all its glory (complete with misspellings):
"i am going to SUE the cable company for what they did to starcade!!!!!!! this kid on the show had five games to pickl from (including bagman) and he picks a homo game like pole position. so we had to sit through five minutes of POLE POSITON. bore me!! he could have at least picked BAGMAN but he picked PLOE POSITION. he only did it for meaness!!!!!!!!!!!! we PAY to watch starcade and we have to watch pole position"
Yeah, we're sure a contestant on Starcade thought to himself, "Hmm, I'm gonna really piss off this one viewer who's a total stranger by choosing to play Pole Position instead of Bagman. That'll show him!" And we're sure the cable company would be really thrilled about getting slapped with a lawsuit by a customer who was disgruntled at an episode of Starcade not being enthralling enough.
Other users of the BBS patiently tried to comfort the angry member. One of them replied:
"Bagman is the soccer of video games in that it is very low scoring. Even its fans do not pick Bagman in the bonus round as much as it appears on the show, as a Starcade participant's total score is based on their score in each game.
"Don't get me wrong ... I AM a Bagman lover."
But Newt Jr. was inconsolable. He shot back:
"THAT IS FUCKEN BULLSHIT!!!!!!!!!!! YOU DONT PICK POLE POSITION WHEN YOU HAVE BAGMAN STARRING YOU IN THE FACE!!!!!!!!!!!! ITS MEAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHEN I PAY TO SEE BAGMAN, BAGMAN IS WHAT I GET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ASSHOLE"
To which another user responded:
"Go back to the days of pinball, man. At least then there was only one game, so you didn't have all these choices and have to worry about a kid picking the wrong game."
In another exchange, someone posted an interesting magazine article about digitized photographs being the wave of the future. It mentioned Journey, the video game based on the rock band. The Journey video game featured digitized pictures of the band members' faces bobbing along. To this piece, the future politician replied with this gem:
"steve perry is a ferry"
Funny, we didn't know the lead singer of Journey was a boat that carries cars.
I was 16 once, and I wouldn't have even dreamed of posting the type of nonsense this individual apparently posted - especially if I had political aspirations. I would have guessed that those posts were from somebody who was maybe 9, not 16. But maybe that's because I wasn't a spoiled baby like he was, who thinks that any way he wants it, that's the way he needs it.
The youngster who allegedly posted that - who went on to become a GOP elected official - sounds like he found one of Blanche Knott's crude joke books at a church library, opened it to a random page, and just decided to string together whatever he saw so it didn't even make any sense.
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