Confusopolies or Why I cannot find a decent ISP

Before anything else, I wanted to encourage any readers I might have to visit Eric S Raymond's blog. It's located at http://esr.ibiblio.org/ and is both more frequently updated than my blog and (often) better written.

For those of you who don't read Dilbert, a short explanation regarding the title is probably in order, the easiest being this strip from 20101121:


When Scott Adams (the author of Dilbert) originally introduced this phrase he held "telephone service, insurance, mortgage loans, banking, and financial services" as examples of industries that had adopted this structure. I have come to think that the list has grown significantly since 1997 and has spread beyond the realm of products which are rarely purchased but are (at least seemingly) essential and extremely complex compared to more common economic decisions (ie 'which brand of has a better price per ounce?'). If I go grocery shopping I can decide between two competing brands with a fairly simple set of calculations (price/).

If I want to buy a mother board, a cell phone, a router, a laptop, a professional training course or certification, even something as theoretically homogeneous as a TV or monitor though I cannot simply compare based on a single quantitative calculation (what is the largest display area I can get for x dollars) I have to compare a significantly larger number of qualifiers almost none of which have a direct (or even an appearant indirect) relationship to the price of the item. Even more rare in most of the cases that I named above can any sort of direct price comparison be made. Different certifications and training programs don't always cover the same material, not all training programs or certifications hold the same value or reputation for potential recruiters or employers. In the US at least buying a given mobile phone or device doesn't just mean picking out the phone you like, you have to find a phone that has just the right combination of features (which is bewildering enough that product comparison charts now regularly extend to at least 3 printed pages for a 'featurephone') your purchase of a phone in the United States (and sometimes Canada) means you also have to choose which carrier you will be contracted to for the next couple of years and which of their pricing plans you will have (since in most cases any attempt to remove a feature from your service is considered to be an early termination of your contract, and thus subject to a penalty). There is no simple direct comparison of cellular carriers networks, services or pricing plans, all of them offer slightly different products at different prices which cannot be directly compared. I've even begun to suspect gas and motor oil companies are trying to get in on the act.

I would go on but I have begun to loose the overall point of this and I get the feeling that it is degenerating into a rant, so I'm going to end things here before it gets completely out of hand.