A small victory

We are sitting in Queenstown Airport and have a long wait for our flight to board, but it was better than sitting in a motel room or again experiencing downtown Queenstown, where they use $20 bills as napkins. It is like Aspen in that regard, or any resort town. They know you are passing through but once, and so have no compunctions about vacuuming your pockets as you leave any establishment. Our first day here last week I paid $38 for two pair of ordinary socks (about $30 U.S.) and was embarrassed to have done so. That was not unusual. A short ride from our motel resort to the airport was $20. $15 U.S.

Internet here at the airport is free and the signal is strong. That’s something. At Novatel, a hotel we stayed at last week on return from Milford Track, I inquired at the desk why our Internet had petered out that morning. They said they we had exceeded usage allowance. We had indeed listened to podcasts and done some email the night before, nothing more. They said we owed an additional $49.50 in addition to the $15 we had paid at the outset. It was taken from our credit card.

“Put it back,” I said.

She then retreated to a back room and emerged with three sheets of paper detailing our every move on the Internet. She said that the allowance was 5Mb or something like that.

“Nobody knows what that means. Nobody,” I said. “Give the money back.”

She retreated again, this time to speak with her supervisor. People here are very nice, so I assume her supervisor was too, and a wimp to boot. He or she did not emerge, and the clerk did and said they would drop the $49.50 charge. ($37.50 U.S.)

As they should. If they don’t warn us about such things, they should back off. But it is interesting. The coffee shop next to the hotel has wifi and it is a strong signal and they allow all customers unlimited usage. It’s a cost of being in business these days, like electricity. I downloaded podcasts there as we drank our coffee so as to avoid more Novatel charges. But broadband is a utility these days. We all use it, need it, expect it. Novatel has got the old capitalist enclosure thing going. Once inside their gate, everything costs extra.

OK. I did ask her if they also charged for electricity delivered to the room. She picked up my sarcasm.

But this is classic rent seeking behavior, to take something that already exists, make no improvements or add any value, and convert it to a profit center. That’s all Verizon or anyone does, rent seeking. They need monopoly-like environs to get away with it, which is why everything in our economy these days is sold by some virtual monopoly somewhere.

If enough assholes like me come through Novatel, they’ll stop doing that. My wife says I should be nicer to clerks and such, and that’s true except that part of their job is to deflect heat from those who make decisions like reaming people’s asses for mere bandwidth. So part of her job to is to endure the heat that rightly belonged to her cowardly supervisor.

The American FCC recently classified Internet service as a utility, which has elicited howls of protest from the stuck pigs of the broadband industry. Their bought legions in Congress will work to overturn that decision. It ain’t over by any stretch. But there is that small victory, like mine.

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