Friendly Monopolies and Customer (Dis)service

Fitting that, just before walking in to pay our cable TV bill in Garland Saturday, I’d been listening to Lily Tomlin’s classic Ernestine the telephone operator routine on some FM station. You know, the one where she browbeats a customer into settling a $24 bill by saying he can’t escape the phone company, which is “omni-potent.” When the bit was over, I entered the office of our friendly local cable monopoly, aka the Time Warner Cable office on Centerville Road. There, two dozen customers were standing in line waiting to see one of two clerks. The customers were uncommonly good-natured, pointing newcomers to the line’s end, opening the door for elderly customers toting heavy defunct set-top boxes.

Fifteen minutes went by as the line inched forward. Then 30 minutes. Then 45, maybe 50. Just as I was one guy away from taking care of business, the clerk yelled out, “Anybody just have a bill to drop off with a check?” I did. “You don’t have to wait in line,” he said loudly. “Just bring it straight to me.” There were no signs about this, no nothing. Then the kicker: If you’re paying by check at the office and you want a receipt, seems it will cost you an extra $5. Five bucks as punishment for paying your bill in person with a check? They call it some kind of “processing” fee; I’d call it robbery. So, consider this fair warning if you show up in the flesh to pay your bill at Time Warner: Ernestine’s “omni-potent” people are still in charge.

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