Remember Ma Bell?
Officially, it was the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, and for decades it was one of the largest corporations in the world, employing a million people and providing phone service to most of the households in America, whether they liked it or not.
AT&T was a private company that acted like a small sovereign nation with its own rules and customs and basically was a law unto itself.
As a regulated monopoly, it delivered a certain standard of service, along with the equipment (you didn't buy your phone, you leased it from Ma Bell), what would now be called tech support and a certain sense of stability. AT&T had always been there well, since the days of Alexander Graham Bell, anyway and always would be.
But, to many people, the corporation also represented everything wrong with big business. It was notoriously bureaucratic, unresponsive and slow to innovate.
That all changed in 1984 when, to settle an anti-trust action brought by the U.S. Justice Department, AT&T was broken up into the regional "baby Bells" and competition was introduced into the telecommunications industry.
It was occasionally chaotic and disruptive, but ultimately beneficial for consumers, new technologies and society has a whole. Not too many people want to go back to the days of Ma Bell.
Unless, that is, you are a cable television company.
In many area communities, Attleboro among them, the local cable provider acts much as AT&T once did. It provides the service, owns the gear and pretty much determines what options its customers will get and for how much, because they are the only game in town.
But, as happened with telephones, change could be coming to cable TV.
According to Attleboro's mayor-elect, Paul Heroux, during his door-to-door campaign this fall, he found that the high cost of cable TV and the lack of choice was one of the top complaints of voters.
Now, he says, a top priority of his administration, starting Jan. 2, will be to encourage another cable company to come into Attleboro.
It may not be an easy task. Cable companies, for a variety of reasons, are reluctant to enter into head-to-head competition in particular markets.
And, for their part, cable companies argue that they already face substantial competition from satellite dish companies and other providers. That, they say, drives them to innovate and keep their costs down.
But if they really want to win the hearts and minds and a share of their entertainment budget from local consumers they should start listening to their complaints and giving them what they say they want genuine choice in cable television services.
Or they could continue to follow the business model of Ma Bell.
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