Only a cable company would charge you more for less, but that's the power of the bundle

I know this guy; we'll call him Nick (although he probably looks more like a Steve or a Dave). Anyway, Nick is a decent guy—college educated, hard-working, nice job that pays a lot of money.

Nick and his wife were married for a couple of decades when things began to come apart. Who really knows what goes on in a marriage? Heck, I've been married 35 years and my wife still won't tell me how ours functions. They had kids in high school and college, but it just wasn't working, so they split up. Nick moved into a smaller place while his wife and kids stayed in the house.

Not very long after that, his wife became ill and then soon became gravely ill. Nick put off any plans for divorce so that his wife could stay on the insurance during the long and costly battle with the cancer. This went on for quite a while and everybody did what they could, but she eventually passed away.

After his wife's funeral, he set about tying off the loose ends that inevitably result after a person's death. He had to contact the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division to transfer the title on the car his wife had driven. And he had to deal with the Social Security people.

"You know, there's a certain segment of our society that hates everything that has to do with the government. They'll always pass along these unsubstantiated anecdotes about the inefficient or rude treatment that somebody got at the (MVD) or with the IRS. Those stories may or may not be true, but, in my case, I have nothing but the highest praise for the people with whom I dealt," he says, being careful not to leave a preposition at the end of the sentence.

Nick says that the people at the MVD were quick and efficient and they were sincere in their expression of sympathy. He had similar praise for the folks at the Social Security Administration. But then came the private sector.

He had left all the electronic stuff intact at the house during his wife's medical ordeal. The cable, Internet, and landline phone were all part of a "bundle" provided by Comcast.

Nick said that he wanted to keep the cable and Internet stuff going while he tried to sell the house. He called Comcast and asked them to shut down the landline, since he and his kids all use cell phones exclusively. The Comcast people said they'd be happy to, but he should know that his bill would go up. He explained that he was actually requesting less service, to which they responded that they would be happy to oblige but that it would cost him more money.

Realizing that it could probably be accomplished with a keystroke or two, Nick offered a deal. They could get rid of the phone service and keep charging him the same amount as before. They said no and added the creepy phrase, "That's the beauty of the bundle."

Nick told me this story and I said there was no freakin' way. So I called Comcast and spoke to somebody in Albuquerque, I believe. I would have been much better off speaking to "Brad" in Mumbai. They told me the same nonsense, that the bundle was a money-saving device for the customer and that any attempts to unbundle would cause a disruption in the Force. Maybe they're afraid that if they offer cafeteria-style pricing for their services, Congress may someday actually do something right and force the cable companies to offer cafeteria-style choices on which stations one subscribes to and watches. Until then, we're all going to get BYU TV whether we like it or not. (Personally, I like it. Looking at all those white people in their natural habitat is like watching something on the Bizarro National Geographic Channel.)

Nick thought that the Comcast mess would be an isolated deal until he called the phone company. The parents and kids all had cell phones on some family plan, but when he tried to cancel his wife's number, he was told that the monthly cost of the plan would go up $20. It's not a matter of a small amount of money, but rather one of principle. How can less service cost more?

I offered to call his phone company until he told me that his deal is with Alltel, which got swallowed whole by Verizon years ago. I visualized Nick and his kids communicating with one another with World War II-style walkie-talkies. I told him that I would help him with Comcast, but I don't even want to mess with Alltel. Lord knows what those people could do to me.

At the beginning of the phone call with Comcast, I had informed the people on the other end of the line that I was thinking of writing a column about their odd pricing practices. I kept asking questions until the person to whom I was speaking asked, rather ominously, whether I, myself, was a customer of Comcast. I swallowed hard, knowing that the series finale of Breaking Bad is coming up on Sunday, but told the truth and answered in the affirmative.

They asked my name, to which I replied, "I'm Tim Steller and I write for the Arizona Daily Star." Then I hung up.

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