Now What?

The Supreme Court has been in the news a lot this past week due to its ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case. I’m not going to elaborate on my opinion of the case here, but I do want to ask a serious question: what can people who feel that this was the wrong decision do to fix it? As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to overrule a Supreme Court decision: amend the Constitution or have the court overrule itself by hearing a new case that addresses the same constitutional issues.

Amending the Constitution

This is impractical for myriad reasons. Constitutional amendments are difficult to pass, for good reason, but with a legislative branch that is beyond dysfunctional to begin with I don’t have much hope for an amendment getting through stating the obvious, “You have to treat every person equally, seriously, everyone. Oh, and a person is a human being, not a company, just in case anyone is ridiculous enough to conflate the two.”

The Court Overruling Itself

The court can overrule itself by hearing a case that addresses the same constitutional issue, but does so in a different way than the earlier case. The latter point is important. If it’s the same exact circumstance the court won’t address it, its precedent will be considered by lower courts when making decisions and it’ll never make it to the Supreme Court.

Even if someone would come up with a case that addresses this issue of corporate personhood and all of the yuckiness that it’s proving to unleash, that case would very likely be heard by the same people who made the current unpopular decisions.

Now  What?

Do we just wait for the composition of the court to change? That can take years, or decades, and companies (or are they people?) took less than a week to start publicly pleading how their rights were being infringed upon for other reasons. Corporate personhood was a bad idea to begin with, but this has to stop.

JFDI

Around this time last year I signed up for an experiment. I wasn’t sure where it would go, but the premise was simple: There is never going to be a good time, so just get started. While the Start Experiment ultimately ended, much to the dismay of its participants, it taught me a lot. As we approach the one-year anniversary I’m looking back on what I learned and how far I’ve come. In some ways I’m in the same place I was back in 2013, but in others I’ve progressed tremendously.

I’m not sure what it was about the past seven days, but it’s like a massive reset button was pressed and I find myself renewed. The grass isn’t always greener and it’s time to stop making excuses and start living.

Cutting Cable and Switching Internet Providers

A few weeks ago I realized that I hadn’t watched “real TV” in weeks. All of the video I’d been watching was coming from the Internet or DVDs. If I wasn’t watching television, then why was I paying for it? I looked at my cable bill and when I included all of the fees associated with my subscription I was paying $87.81 for something I wasn’t actually using. If I was going to “cut the cord” as it’s become known, I wanted to see if I would incur any fees for just having Internet service. Sure enough, according to Service Electric’s website there was a $10/month fee if you didn’t have television service. That combined with their recently-implemented bandwidth cap made me decide to see if there was a better option.

I knew that Verizon FiOS wasn’t available in my area, but neighbors of mine had recently switched to RCN and were happy with the service, so I checked out RCN’s website to see what Internet options were available. RCN’s slowest Internet package was faster than Service Electric’s fastest, and they didn’t have an extra fee if you didn’t have television service or a bandwidth cap. If I didn’t have television service Service Electric was offering 25 Mbit download/1 Mbit upload for $54.95/month. RCN was offering 25 Mbit download/4 Mbit upload for $39.99/month, 50 Mbit download/10 Mbit upload for $49.99/month and 75 Mbit download/15 Mbit upload for $59.99/month. So, for $5 more per month I could triple my download speed and have fifteen times the upload speed? Why wouldn’t I choose that option? Even when the rates go up in years two and three ($69.99 and $79.99/month, respectively) it’s still faster than anything Service Electric offers, even to commercial customers and it’ll be much less than I was spending on combined TV and Internet service.

I was still apprehensive about switching, so I decided to send a tweet to ask what people thought about the two competitors. No one had anything good to say about Service Electric, and while there were a few people who didn’t like RCN, most people had good things to say. A friend of mine summed up the situation:

Service Electric suffers from being better than Twin County was 20 years ago. RCN is leaps and bounds ahead of them in terms of Internet speed and even channel lineups. But because Twin County was terrible in the 90s there are diehard sectv subscribers who settle for inferior service.

In addition to regular people sending their comments about RCN and Service Electric I got a response via Twitter from RCN within ten minutes. We had a conversation via direct message where their rep Jackie answered my litany of questions. She confirmed that I could get 75 Mbit service at my address, that there wasn’t a bandwidth cap, that there wasn’t an extra charge for Internet if I didn’t have television service, but despite what some of my friends are seeing on their bill, RCN is longer offering a credit if you provide your own cable modem.

Thanks to Jackie answering my questions, my mind was made up to switch, so I attempted to sign up on RCN’s website where I saw that there was a promotion to save 50% off the installation charge if I signed up online. Unfortunately as I was checking out I didn’t see that savings reflected in my cart. I chose the option to save my cart and entered my email address as I was asked. I then sent another direct message to RCN via Twitter asking about the installation discount that the website mentioned. Within a few minutes Jackie responded with a code I could use to get the discount, but luckily I checked my email before I finished signing up.

After I saved my cart on RCN’s website I was sent an email with a link to resume my signup. There was also a discount code for FREE installation if I completed my order within 48 hours. I used the provided code and scheduled an installation. They could have been out the following day, but I was busy so I chose to have my service connected on the next day, which was Sunday morning. RCN’s contracted technician, Mike, did a very neat job with the installation.

Once he was done with the installation I called Service Electric to cancel my service and I was a bit shocked by how their phone rep didn’t sound even remotely disappointed that I was leaving. That said, she was very helpful. She stopped my billing that day so I wouldn’t be billed for another month of service. I confirmed that the only thing left for me to do was to turn in my cable box and cable modem. She said that once I turned those in my account would be closed. I also asked her if I could have someone come out to my house to remove their wire from my house. She said someone would be out on May 5 to remove the line.

I turned in my cable box and modem at Service Electric’s office the following day and got a receipt confirming everything was turned in. In the mean time Service Electric’s line and junction box were just hanging on the side of my house doing nothing. This morning, May 5, I saw a service truck appear in front of my house. I heard the service tech make a bit of a noise with the ladder on his truck, but when I looked out my window a few minutes later he was gone. I went outside to confirm that the line was gone and I saw that he didn’t do anything. At all.

I took to twitter to express my confusion, and a friend chimed in. Later Service Electric responded to him, not me, asking that he contact them to confirm what happened.  Aside from that weirdness I was glad to see them respond so I called to find out what happened. Apparently when I asked to have the wire removed from my house a work order was put in to have Service Electric disconnect the wire from the pole to the line going into my house. Since that was already done when RCN connected my service, the Service Electric technician left. The woman I spoke with on the phone at Service Electric apologized for the confusion and said that someone would be out on Saturday to remove the drop from my house. I guess I should have known that jargon when I asked them to remove their wire from my house the first time? Hopefully this coming Saturday Service Electric’s wire will be gone and they won’t leave it coiled up and ugly on the lines between the houses on my street like Verizon did. (Yes, that’s still there.)

tl;dr

  • Cable TV is expensive
  • Shop around for your Internet service
  • If you want the wire from your old cable company physically removed from the side of your house ask them to “remove the drop”

 

Update 5/10/2014 3:00 PM:

Photo May 10, 2 35 39 PM (1)Service Electric came out and removed the line that was hanging down the side of my house as well as their junction box, but from what I can tell they left the wire running from the pole out to the house. From what I can see (I posted a photo on the right), they just cut off the wire at my house. Why did they do that?

I tried calling Service Electric, but operator assistance wasn’t available at 2:45 PM. I contacted Service Electric through their website with the following message at 2:53 PM:

Today I had an appointment to have one of your technicians remove the cable line from my house. The customer service person I spoke with on the phone earlier this week used the term “remove the drop” which I understood to mean that your line would be completely removed from my house. While the junction box and wire that came down the side of my house were removed, instead of removing your line from my house, the technician just cut it near the roof. Here is a photo of what was done. http://todddietrich.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Photo-May-10-2-35-39-PM-1.jpg

Unfortunately I wasn’t home when the technician came out or I would have asked them to remove it completely when they were here. How can I get someone to finish removal of your line from my house instead of just cutting it? I tried calling your customer service phone number at 2:45 PM, but it said that no operator assistance was available.

Thank you for your help,

Todd Dietrich

Update 5/10/2014 3:30 PM:

I received a prompt reply from Will at Service Electric at 3:05 PM via email:

Sorry to hear that the line wasn’t removed the way you wanted. It’s unclear from the photo what is left as I am not an installer, but I’d like to schedule an installer out when you can be there to get this done properly. Do you have any days that work better?

thanks,
Will

To which I replied at 3:21 PM:

Will,

Thanks for the quick reply. I can be home to meet the installer any day this coming week. When I made the initial appointment the person I spoke with said that since it was all outside my house I didn’t need to be home, so we didn’t set a time, just that someone would be out today. It’s not urgent, so an emergency visit isn’t necessary, but I would prefer that this not get forgotten. If it’s easier to discuss via a phone call I would be happy to call you, or you can call me, but when I tried earlier the automated message said that no one was available.

I’ve also adjusted the contrast in the photo that I referenced in my original message to make it a little clearer, in case anyone else needs to see what was going on.

I appreciate your assistance,

Todd Dietrich

Just to clarify, the reason I am documenting all of this is so people can see what it takes to remove a cable line, similar to what I did with removing my phone line last year. I also don’t want to make it look like Service Electric isn’t being responsive. They are, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to complain but not document what they’re doing to make things right.

For better or worse, one of the number one things that brings people to my blog are queries on “how to remove phone line from my house” or some derivative. Also, I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience with Service Electric. They’re not a bad company, they just didn’t offer the speed that I wanted. That’s why I switched to RCN, not because of reliability or quality issues.

Update 5/10/2014 4:08 PM:

Will was quick to respond again at 3:43 PM:

I can get someone out next Friday or Saturday afternoon.

thanks,
Will

I responded at 3:46 PM:

Thanks for being so helpful Will.

Either day is fine. Can you give me a window of when the technician will be out so I can be sure to be home?

Thank you,

Todd Dietrich

He got back to me at 4:06 PM:

12: 30 – 5 pm on Thursday with a half hour call ahead.

thanks,
Will

My final reply at 4:07 PM was:

Perfect. Thank you so much for setting this up.

- Todd

While it’s frustrating that the technician who came out today only halfway removed the line from my house, kudos to Will at Service Electric for being quick to respond to my email and for scheduling someone to come out to finish the job.

Update 5/16/2014 2:33 PM:

Photo May 16, 2 27 30 PMService Electric’s technician came out this afternoon and he said that the reason the previous person didn’t completely remove the wire was because RCN used Service Electric’s hook that is connected to my house, but Service Electric isn’t allowed to touch RCN’s equipment. He asked what I wanted to do. I asked if I would be charged for the hook if he removed the cable and he said no. I said that it was up to him on how he wanted to remove the wire and that I’d be OK with him just cutting it at the hook, leaving a nub and removing the rest of the line back to the pole, I just didn’t want it connected to the building. He was very nice about the whole thing and within about ten minutes, even with the rain that we’re getting today, the job was done. Fortunately he didn’t just cut the wire and leave a stub, he removed the entire thing from the hook and unlike Verizon when they disconnected their line from my house he didn’t leave a coil of wire back at the pole, he removed the entire thing properly.

Save the the [Lehigh Valley]

I’m not sure when it began, but Discover Lehigh Valley has decided to refer the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metropolitan area as “Lehigh Valley” instead of “the Lehigh Valley.”

I grew up in this area and for as long as I can remember, when the term has been used by locals it’s always been “the Lehigh Valley.” Omitting the “the” makes it sound like Lehigh Valley is the name of a city, like Simi Valley, California, or Golden Valley, Minnesota. There is no city in Pennsylvania named Lehigh Valley. Lehigh is the name of the valley where I live.

You wouldn’t say, “I’m going to Rocky Mountains on vacation,” or, “Let’s go check out wineries in Catskills.” You would say, “I’m going to the Rocky Mountains on vacation,” or “Let’s go check out wineries in the Catskills.”

As my friend Laini said, “When used as an adjective, it doesn’t need the ‘the’. As a noun, technically, it does.”

Example: The Lehigh Valley is home to many festivals like Musikfest, Bacon Fest and Mayfair. Lehigh Valley cities include Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

Save the the.

Encouraging Communication

On Saturday, The Express Times published an article about the City of Bethlehem working on a new social media policy. In it, three private citizens who are active on social media, and that I hold in very high regard, were quoted. The article itself sparked conversation on Twitter that came in spurts over the course of two days, and while overall I think it was productive, I think it could have gone better.

As far as my own actions in the twitter discourse that took place are concerned, I can see that I was too wrapped up in the difference of opinions and should have crafted more tactful responses. I have a lot of respect for the people I was arguing with, and while I still don’t think we agree on how to help the city move forward, we all believe in the same reason why. We’re all on the same team and I hope we can work together, with our different methods and expertise, to help everyone come out ahead.

The overall mood of those who were talking seemed to be that people were frustrated by what’s been perceived as a regression in the level of communication from city hall and what seems to be a lack of interest in changing that in the near future. This winter’s snow and the city’s efforts to remove it has put that communication shortfall in the spotlight. To its credit, the administration has stated that they are working on an official social media policy, and they have reached out to private citizens for input. They’re also working on updating the far-outdated website to make it easier to find important information in a timely manner. They may be new to the game, and are moving at a pace that’s slower than many would like, but they’re not operating solely in a vacuum, and from what I’m seeing, they are listening and learning.

The part of the twitter discussion that got quite heated was how should we, as private citizens, be engaging with the administration? How can and should we convince them to create a Facebook page for the city? How can we convince the mayor and police to interact with citizens, not just broadcast information? I stated that we can and should reach out to the administration where we know they will listen. Mayor Donchez attends city council meetings with his staff. If the city isn’t engaging via Facebook and Twitter right now, then sending all the tweets in the world isn’t going to make a difference. If we want to start a conversation, if we want to convince an administration that seems to have a different view on how social media should be used, I feel we should go to the administration instead of expecting it to come to us.

I also think that we should be encouraging what we see as positive developments, instead of just complaining that things aren’t happening fast enough. Yes, there’s a place for criticism, but I know that for me personally, if all I hear is negativity, and get no input on things that I’m doing correctly, I’m going to question why I’m bothering at all. Some are too busy to attend city council meetings, or feel that they (the administration) should come to us digitally for conversations about the subject. If you’re too busy to attend meetings, you’re too busy, I get that, but when the city has shown that they’re willing to discuss it, that they’re looking to learn, why wouldn’t we continue to work with them?

This is entirely new territory for most of the people involved in the administration. It’s important that they get it right, from a public relations and a legal standpoint. Right now they’re comfortable talking offline. In my opinion, something is better than nothing, and I think we should continue reaching out in whatever manner is proving effective. The mayor and police are both getting better about communicating online. It’s not ideal, but it’s improving. You don’t turn into Cory Booker overnight, and I don’t think that’s even what people are looking for, we just want to know what’s going on in our city, because right now, there’s a lot of silence and that’s leaving people to speculate and get frustrated.

The city’s social media policy is expected to be announced soon. I’m anxious to see what the administration comes up with, and how they implement it.