Sunday, January 27, 2002

Sometimes examples help. This brief one to suggest the nature of changes are taking place due to market forces that include consumer choice, but go beyond it: I used to use AT&T for long distance. The company's "brand" bollocks of reliability, quality and service was good enough for me. As a journalist, I remember about 6 years ago asking an AT&T spokesman if the company had any qualms about voice-over-net technology. None whatsoever, the more the merrier, etc., came the reply, with the assuredness of a Titanic engineer. Cut to today - AT&T stock is shit; it's losing customers to companies like ZoneLD - (not a VON play, just a cheaper way to bill and service accounts). Now when I tell telemarketers for AT&T or Worldcom that I pay 4.5 cents a minute anytime, day or night, with no monthly fee, they melt away. When another AT&T rep explained to me that I am paying $1.50 for the privilege of being presented with AT&T's monthly bill, and that anytime I make a calling card call over their lines from a pay phone, the meter starts at $5, I offered the observation that there was no surer way to guarantee that I and many others would never use their lines, services, hardware or investment opportunities again. There is a trend out there, I think - a growing one - in which old industrial stalwarts like AT&T are adopting the nickle-and-diming-to-death tactics of rural Georgia police departments (no offense, Jeneane), homeless windshield washers, and entirely disreputable appliance service cheeseballs. In fact, that is what it is: the cheeseballification of the industrial elite. The question is, where did that AT&T equity go?

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