Let’s state the obvious: Internet in the U.S. sucks. Unless you already have fiber, you’re probably stuck with cable, DSL, or no internet at all because no ISP wants to expand into your area. If you live in a rural area and are lucky to get some form of broadband, you’re probably paying an exorbitant amount for slower than molasses speeds. And most people, about 83.3 million according to a recent report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), can only access broadband through a single provider. There’s no incentive for major ISPs to actually offer their customers good service. Instead, their focus is on short-term profits—even if that means leaving money on the table and customers on DSL.
Our own Alex Cranz and Brian Kahn recently spoke with Electronic Frontier Foundation special adviser Cory Doctorow about how ISPs continue to wreck their own internet service, overcharge customers, shut out competition, and leave a significant chunk of urban and rural America pleading for more affordable and better broadband. (You can listen to this first episode of the System Reboot podcast here.) The podcast is a nice overview of the problems with ISPs, but I wanted to dig a bit further into one key element of Doctorow’s focus in the episode: The case of Frontier’s bankruptcy. It’s especially illuminating when it comes to tracing the steps of how ISPs got this monopolistic power over consumers and continue to wield it to absolute ill effects.
The Internet Is Broken, and ISPs Are to Blame
Hundreds of Mount Vernon residents opened their latest water bills to find a hefty extra charge.
Not because they hadn’t paid what they owed. And not because the city was suddenly charged more for its water.
On Facebook, City Councilwoman Delia Farquharson posted her bill showing an “additional billing” of $319.75. “This water bill requires further explanation. I do not have a pool,” she quipped alongside the bill.
The explanations came Wednesday from water Commissioner Carlton Spruill and Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard. The extra charge for residents of Water District 3 was a result of the crash of a city computer server in April that eliminated data including some of the water department’s billing records. They suggested the “additional billing” figure will not have to be paid.
Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard and water Commissioner Carlton Spruill took to Facebook Oct. 7, 2020, to explain extra charges that appeared on many water bills (Photo: City of Mount Vernon)
In a letter to customers, Spruill told residents that the “additional billing” reflected previous payments. Those who believe their bills were incorrect were urged to call the water department at 914-668-7820 or email them at [email protected]
Contact by email may be best as when a reporter called the department Thursday morning, both options went to voicemail but the mailbox was full.
“Once we have been notified of your inquiry, please disregard any “Additional Billing” and remit payment for “Current Charges” while we investigate and adjust any discrepancies,” Spruill wrote.
Spruill and Patterson-Howard posted a 3-minute video on Facebook detailing the problem. The mayor urged residents who got the extra charge to find their proof of previous payments to help the water department clear up the problem.
“We are not trying to double-bill our citizens for water,” she said.
The mayor also addressed