Though it is rarely, if ever, the top motivation for a community to build its own broadband network, the idea of local customer service that is actually responsive to the community ranks usually among the top 5 motivations. We love the idea of a "strangle effect" -- coined by folks at Wilson's Greenlight in North Carolina. If something goes wrong, you can find someone nearby to strangle.
Compare that to these three stories.
First - a coworker of mine had to return a Comcast set-top box after cutting back on services. When he drove to the Comcast storefront, the outside drop box was full of gear, so he stepped inside to a room packed with
Comcastic homicidal folks who had waited too long for attention from the overworked counter folk. He asked to just drop his box but they said he would have to take a number and wait... so he could set his Comcast box on the counter because no one had emptied the box outside where it should have been placed.
Another Comcast story comes to us from the Consumerist: where Comcast tries to repossess a cable modem is does not own.
Finally, David Pogue recently recounted the story of Qwest demanding that a customer call a specific phone number to report that his phone was not working. Rachel, the person who experienced the terrible service, writes:
Do you suppose all communications giants are like this? “We are abjectly sorry and have instructed our employees to grovel at your feet, but we are simply unable help you, value you though we do. Yes, we’re helpless. You know, we’re only a giant corporation. You can’t really expect us to help you, can you? We’re sure you understand. Please visit our Web site again to order more products!” Is it truly impossible to debug a VoIP modem problem via e-mail for some technical or philosophical reason?
Yes, Rachel, those massive communications giant are all like that. They have no obligation to any community they serve and while they employ good people who may genuinely want to help, they are structured to benefit shareholders, not subscribers.
A lesson for community broadband networks: focus on providing great customer service and making sure the community knows it.
Photo used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Titanas on flickr.