Cable Cartel

Originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Cable Cartel


With cities threatening lawsuits and stiff fines for lousy service and millions of viewers flocking to satellite dishes, cable television companies have realized they need to upgrade their image. The giant, caring brain inside the cable industry’s public relations center has responded with this insert for next month’s bill:

Important Customer Information

It has come to our attention through your constant whining and complaining that some of you couch potatoes aren’t satisfied with our service. Apparently, you think we treat you shabbily. Well, of course we do. Why? Because we can.

Just kidding. We love our customers. That’s the reason we’re writing to tell you about some exciting new improvements, that and a paralyzing fear of government regulation:

New programming. We’re happy to report that last month’s 500 percent rate increase has allowed us to expand our programming to include many new and exciting channels:

(1) Empty Sky Network. See the sky live 24 hours a day.

(2) Bovine Growth Network. Watch cows mature from birth to adulthood.

(3) The Jones Channel (TJC). People with the last name “Jones” discuss their life experiences.

(4) TNT Network. Not Ted Turner’s outfit. We’re talking real TNT! Live detonations around the clock.

(5) Plus 27 more golf channels!

Help line. Have a question? Call us anytime. You won’t get to talk to a real human being because cable companies do not employ actual live workers. However, we do have a great new phone menu designed to demonstrate how completely we control your pitiful boobtube-watching lifestyles:

If you’re calling from a touch tone phone—and we know you are so don’t even think about pretending you’re not—press 1. Wait for static. Press 5. Wait for static. Press 3, 6 and 9 at the exact same time. Now press 4 and then 8 REALLY FAST. Wait for static.

Press 1 finger to nose. We’re not kidding. Do it. … (Whistling) … We’re not in any hurry. Are you? There, that’s better. Now press 2 and then the pound sign. Or 7. It doesn’t really matter.

To report a service outage, enter your phone number, street address, zip code and mail us a picture of your house with directions. Stay on the line. For billing questions, skip to our state of the art automated account system and, seriously, good luck. If you have a complaint, press the star sign and hang up. Go watch more TV and you’ll feel better.

If at any time you wish to repeat this menu, you must be a very bored and lonely person. Go watch more TV.

Service appointments. Experiencing a service interruption? No problem. We offer four convenient and reliable appointment slots to help you manage your busy schedule: Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring.

Pay-per-view. Some of our most special programming is available only on a pay-per-view basis. Sign up now for the “Thrilla in Ashtabula” for only $99.95. See the heavyweight grudge match of the century as Lennox Lewis defends his crown against some other guy TBA.

Our promise to you. We’re 100 percent committed to providing you intermittent sound and video images and a monthly bill. If you’re not completely satisfied, we encourage you to try out one of our competitors. Be sure to figure in interstate moving costs when comparing monthly rates.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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