5 Monopolies That Hate The Average American
There are few businesses as noble as utility companies. They keep us warm, clean, and connected, and prevent us from drowning in our turds. Sure, the fact that they require billions of dollars of singular infrastructure means you can't make them as capitalistically competitive as cupcake stores, but they're all just run by workaday Joes trying to do right by the people, right? Well, no. It turns out that any market with an impossible barrier of entry and which 100% of the public has be a customer of (or else they, y'know, die) doesn't attract the most humanitarian of money-lovers. In fact, by the looks of the American public utility system, it's Mr. Burnses all the way down. For example ...
Duke Energy Lobbies Hard To Keep Energy As Dirty As Possible
Monopolies aren't all stagnating pools of one-percenters draining their customers' pocketbooks for little in return. There are also plenty of state-regulated utility monopolies. Like Duke Energy, which in places like North Carolina has sole access to the market, but has its prices and expenses determined by publicly elected officials. That way they transform from a festering system of stagnation and exploitation into a festering system of stagnation and exploitation with extra steps!
According to most watchdog groups, Duke only cares about one kind of utility bill: the ones passed by state senators. For them, the government isn't a stern overseer setting prices and practices, but another mark to upsell. Every year the company pours tons of public funds into a powerful lobbying machine that efficiently (illegally) extracts votes to maximize profits. In 2019, Duke tried to push a bill that would've raised their monopoly profit cap from 9.9% to 10.9%. And while that one percentage point may seem harmless at first sight (as they all do until the man-hunting rifles come out), it would've meant Carolinians would have been forced to pay billions more over the next decade for the exact same product.
When Duke can't use its dirty money to make more money, it uses it to keep things dirty. Since infrastructure costs money, the company also lobbies aggressively to hold onto its old coal-vomiters and crumbling nuclear power plants instead of upgrading to green energy.
But in case you want to accuse Duke of not acting as a public utility, it does take that title very literally, in that it constantly tries to utilize the public to clean up its messes. The company has successfully lobbied to charge their customers extra to pay for cleaning up their environmental disasters. Thanks to its greasy lobby mill, its client states are the most polluting of the entire nation, generating a mere 2% of their energy from green sources, far below the (already quite sad) national average.
Veolia Water Knew Flint Would Be Poisoned And Said Nothing
They say the lead in the aqueducts is what made the Romans go insane, lose their empire, and give a political office to a horse. Today we're way past that point, and nothing signifies that more than the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which has left a first-world city without potable water for years now. So many people have been sickened and even died due to the incompetence and callousness of ... who, exactly?
Five years on, the citizens of Flint are still figuring out whose heads should go on the lead-encrusted spikes. Recent news has shifted some of the blame away from the municipal government and toward Veolia Water, a water privatization multinational whose name coincidentally can't be spelled without "we violate." In late 2019, emails retrieved by watchdog Corporate Accountability show that the company knew that about the looming disaster seven months in advance. It simply chose not to warn the town that its water was about to become poison because, in true '80s villain style, it would've cost them some money.
How did Veolia justify this? By claiming that providing a public good doesn't mean you're responsible for the good of the public. Like sign painters who intentionally misspell "and son's" because you didn't pay for the proofreading package, Veolia argued that the city had only paid them to test for chemical contamination, not specifically lead. Of course, they were checking for lead, and when they found dangerous levels, the company's board stated in emails to "not pass this on," as they were still negotiating other civil contracts with Flint. Why gum up the works by informing their clients they were about to spend their entire budget on giving kindergartners permanent brain damage?
So far, Veolia has escaped any legal accountability, mostly on technicalities and really good lawyers. They will no doubt continue dousing their own on-fire pants by remaining the largest water provider in the world. And that lack of accountability is bad news not just for Flint, but the hundreds of other communities that are suffering from degrading pipes and contaminated soil, which could cost billions to clean up, but won't happen until another tragedy strikes. And the only people who could warn us have only learned to be better at deleting emails.
California's Oldest Power Company Switches Off Whenever There's A Stiff Breeze
With its earthquakes, wildfires, and unreasonably long waiting times at Nobu, California isn't the most welcoming of places. So you'd think that the state's utilities would be equipped to handle these constant calamities, making sure the water and your fridge keep running. But that would require a lot of money and upkeep, and no monopoly would ever let a silly thing like having to do their job get in the way of turning a profit.
Pacific Gas & Electric earned its monopoly the old-fashioned way: It was there first. Established in 1852, most of California's power has been provided by PG&E since before the E was even invented. The 19th century was also apparently the last time the investor-owned utility updated any of its infrastructure. In the home of the American bush fire, its transmission lines are so old and sparky that they caused the 2018 Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history, costing $16 billion in damages and 86 lives.
After that tragedy, PG&E vowed to never let that happen again -- being liable for damages, that is. Now, at even the slightest hint of dry and windy weather, PG&E simply shuts down power to hundreds of thousands of households, in what they call preemptive blackouts. That sounds more like something a bored trophy wife does 20 minutes before her terrible stepchildren come home from soccer practice.
While Californians are used to dealing with blackouts whenever the sky turns orange or Lex Luthor is trying to sink half of the state into the ocean for real estate reasons, it's a whole other fuck-you when your fridge fails or the gas pumps won't work just because your energy company doesn't feel like putting in the work. And because these outages are "preventative," citizens can't even get disaster relief from their insurance, as the damage isn't caused by an act of God, but an act of greed. And if they had to pay out every time an American company stabbed its customers in the back, AT&T and Verizon alone would've bankrupted every insurance company in the world.
Why doesn't PG&E just spend its billions on safeguarding its power lines and updating its infrastructure? Well, it has more important uses for that money. Like getting its shareholders massive payouts. And of course, since their callous endangering of thousands of lives has given them a bit of an image problem, they've needed to spend hundreds of millions on the most expensive lobbyists and image consultants in the U.S.
But not even with half of the former Clinton PR team (they know how to defend a boss infamous for fucking over pretty people) could they grease enough wheels to allow them to plunge the entire state into darkness whenever they feel like it. As of 2020, the state is trying to pass a bill to municipalize the firm. And if you need government bureaucrats to step in to streamline and modernize your infrastructure, you're doing something wrong.
New York's Gas Giant Held 20,000 Households Ransom To Get A Massive Pipe
New York has an energy problem, and we're not talking about their constant need to yell at everyone about where they're walking. The demand for electricity and heating is on the rise faster than the current infrastructure can keep up with. And in proper New York psycho fashion, its main gas provider wants to solve the issue by freezing people to death until the state lets it release its massive swinging pipe.
Or so claimed New York's gas provider, National Grid (which, ironically, is a British company), when they hastily proposed the construction of a yuge billion-dollar natural gas pipeline into Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. But environmental groups quickly countered that the company's doomsday prophecies were nothing but hot air, and it was inventing a crisis to rush the approval of the pipeline, forcing the city to invest so much money in fossil fuels that it would have nothing to put into NG's green competition.
Protests quickly emerged, with the public making it clear that they didn't want some costly tube full of crude fossils going through New Jersey into the heart of New York. (They already have the Holland Tunnel.) But like a panicked bank robber demanding more and more cheese pizzas, NG quickly turned the standoff into a gassy hostage situation. To put pressure on the public, the gas giant placed a moratorium on hookups, refusing to turn on the gas for 20,000 households and small businesses, literally leaving them out in the cold (and in the case of the small businesses, bleeding money).
But this is New York, home of that Spider-Man 2 subway scene. The bellicose citizens banded together and bit back. Governor Andrew Cuomo called the company out on their mob tactics, deeming them a "health and safety violation," and threatened to kick them out if they didn't hook everyone up. Deflated, NG agreed to pay a $36 million fine and find less toxic means of passing their gas to their consumers. Which, surprise surprise, they immediately did, proving they were only in it for the power of the pipe.
Broadband Isn't A Utility Yet, But It's Already Being Run Into The Ground Like One
Any generation that didn't have to grow up waiting half an hour for a single pixelated boob to un-blur already treats fast internet as a right, not a privilege. Broadband would be a more essential public utility to heavy internet users than the services they're no longer using anyway, like sending letters or taking showers. And no wonder even the average Joe would like the government to step in, as their current internet providers are constantly threatening their American way of Second Life.
Mega-corporations like Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have carved up the country into exclusive territories. Half of the country has only two choices for even shitty basic internet. And for over 120 million Americans, wanting anything faster than a dial-up modem reduces that number to one, giving those companies a virtual monopoly.
The average American also pays more than triple than the average French person, and for a far inferior service. Since the government hasn't yet deemed the internet vital for the public's well-being (which is a hard sell to anyone who has ever read a comment section), it holds those oligopolies to little or even negative accountability. At any time, your internet can be capped, throttled, and/or upsold without any notice, making it so unreliable that there are countries with little access to clean water that spend less time watching a 360p YouTube video buffer than the average North Carolinian.
Fortunately, this situation could change faster than the speed of a fiber optic cable. Several U.S. cities have already created municipally owned internet providers to counter these information superhighway robber barons. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls like Bernie Sanders have vowed to break internet monopolies and raise broadband standards out of the Windows XP era. With any luck, American internet users will eventually enjoy their internet like any other public utility ... which going by this article, means it'll become even more corrupt, conservative, and corroded.
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