In the old days – a year ago or so – DSL was available from many Internet service providers. DSL wholesalers – Covad, Rhythms, and Northpoint – installed and maintained the lines, and the ISPs handled the customer services – billing, support, e-mail, web hosting, and the like. The wholesalers had to rely on Pacific Bell to do some of the exterior wiring, but Pacific Bell was also a competitor with a vested interest in cutting off the wholesalers at the knees. So Pacific Bell deliberatedly shortchanged the competitors, delivering poor service, missed installation dates, dropped lines, miscommunications, and everything else it could think of to cause miserable customer experiences. And although Pacific Bell did a miserable job of rolling out their own DSL service, it did a marginally better job on its own accounts than it delivered to the wholesalers.
Well, Pacific Bell won. Northpoint declared bankruptcy earlier this year and cut off its DSL lines with no notice, leaving the poor ISPs scrambling to appease unhappy customers. Rhythms declared bankruptcy a couple of weeks ago, and today it gave thirty days notice of its intention to cut off all of its DSL lines. Covad will declare bankruptcy next week, although it’s a planned bankruptcy that will leave the company running with an outside shot at survival. If you’re going to order DSL, call Pacific Bell. They’re the only game in town.
Pacific Bell’s actions went beyond unfair competition. Pacific Bell had regulatory obligations that it simply chose to ignore for the purpose of closing down its competitors. Simply unconscionable.