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I echo the complaint of Mary Christensen’s letter in the Jan. 28 Courier in which she wrote “Mediacom has no competition; therefore we are at their mercy.”

It wasn’t meant to be that way. When the city granted Mediacom the exclusive right to provide cable service to Waterloo residents, it was part of an agreement that treated Mediacom as a public utility, like Waterloo Water Works. (Cable service in Cedar Falls is a true public utility business owned by the city of Cedar Falls).

Instead of allowing competition of the marketplace to force the business to be efficient and meet the needs of the public, the agreement gave the city the right to oversee the business in setting rates and providing services. To do so the agreement provides the city have a Cable TV Commission to field complaints about the providing of services and to review the records of repair services, costs, income and fees, and to report to the City Council and make recommendations.

Public utilities give up the privacy of all other businesses and grant public oversight in exchange for guaranteed freedom from competition. The agreement was not caste in stone; it was meant to be renegotiated every few years. The agreement has not been renegotiated in decades — to the great advantage of Mediacom.

We shouldn’t complain about a privately owned profit motivated business doing what all other businesses do — cut costs as much as possible and to charge as much as the market can bear. In our situation, the costs being cut are in services (such as timely repairs).

The fault lies with the city. It has abdicated its role as overseer of Mediacom and protector of the public. The Cable TV Commission exists on paper only. It has not convened in years. As members of the mayor’s appointed committee finished their terms in office, the mayor did not re-appoint or replace them. The commission lost its quorum and could not longer function.

A year ago when I was paying a lot to Mediacom for service, and getting terrible service, I went to the city clerk to find out when and where the Cable TV Commission met so I could complain. I learned it did not exist and the city clerk fielded my complaint and called a friend of hers at Mediacom and relayed my complaints. It worked; Mediacom fixed my problems quickly. But this is a poor excuse for city oversight.

When I had a recent service interruption I called Mediacom and spoke with a “service representative” (she was in the Philippines) who told me a technician would come out to address my problem — three days later. The agreement Mediacom has requires it address service complaints within 24 hours. But there is no one to complain to; there is no one to review the service records of Mediacom and no one to compel Mediacom’s compliance with its agreement with the city.

Mediacom has no incentive to replace or upgrade old equipment or hire more competent service technicians, to train and retrain technicians or respond more quickly to complaints. The city has given Mediacom the ability to spend more than a billion dollars to expand its market (and profits), some of which could have been spent to improve its services to us.

The mayor and City Council should be ashamed for allowing this to happen. And we let them do so.

Gene Yagla is a semi-retired Waterloo attorney.


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