Sunday, January 30, 2011

…And now, a desperate call to housewives

In the sublime and euphoric end of year mode, when tout le monde try to pay as little attention as possible to the cares of the world and revel in optimism at the year to come and if given to reflection at all, to focus only on the good of the year gone, a cable provider slipped letters into the mailboxes of its unsuspecting customers.
These were not epistles of good tidings that would have brought great joy as befitted the season, so those who put off opening suspect mail until well into the New Year were spared having to absorb its cheerless content.
But alas, perhaps because of diminishing numbers of housewives, or diminishing numbers of those classified as such (readers will recall the trauma described in a previous column of trying to ascertain national statistics on housewives), there have not been even a whimper at this national injustice.
At least one wants to believe that may be the reason there has not yet been voices raised in widespread protest at the dismal content - if not the mode and manner of delivery - of the sad tidings that merely drummed up a two-decade long debate and suggested consumers lobby the Telecommunications Authority and Ministry to return two channels the provider was ‘ordered’ to discontinue.
Or it might be that in these days of email and instant messaging, few really pay store to nicely-typed, politely laid-out, double-spaced, somewhat apologetic, notification, signed by the chief executive of the provider with whom consumers enter a contract to provide their home entertainment if, and when, they have time to partake thereof.
Or it might be that in an era long past those of monopolistic corporate practices - as open market forces now offer consumers choice of a range of not just national television and cable service providers, but direct access to international ones as well - few thought it was worth the effort to elicit more than a muted steups while they went shopping for an alternative provider.
Whatever the reasons, in the glory days of the Housewives Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HATT), such a missive would never have slipped pass public scrutiny. The death just over a year ago of the head of HATT, which has been a vibrant force in carving space for recognition of women in Trinidad and Tobago and beyond seems to have rendered this organization somewhat silent.
Established in 1971 to generate public interest and awareness of the power of consumer action and to provide reliable consumer information, investigate consumer complaints, ensure consumer protection and educate consumers about their rights, HATT’s sporadic spurts of support of various causes over the last four decades have, at times, had global reverberations.
Time was when this organization was a household name. It not only championed the merits of breastfeeding, for instance, or high consumer prices; or the invisibility of housewives in national accounting and planning; it admonished various public and private sector bodies including, Ministries, the Bureau of Standards, consumer affairs division, public utility services and advertisers to pull up their socks and tie their shoelaces.
The work of this illustrious organization has made its way into various impressive treatise – including the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, as a significant entity that has impacted on “Dance Halls, Masquerades, Body Protest and The Law: The Female Body As A Redemptive Tool Against Trinidad's Gender-Biased Laws”.
It was seen as an enduring voice to any cause. In 2005, one year after HATT resurfaced with a new burst of energy following a period of dormancy, the haulers’ association invoked the menacing visage of HATT to their defense if manufacturers did not pay for wasting haulers time by keeping them waiting as much as six hours before loading haul trucks at the port. Manufacturers had threatened to increase the price of goods following the haulers establishing a ‘delay fee’. The haulers rebutted:
“If prices are increased, the consumers should say something, whether it is the Housewives Association or somebody else. Let the port know the delays cost the country,” the haulers admonished.
So now, it would be good if HATT, as it has done time and again over water and electricity rates, lets the people know that cuts in aspects of any contracted household services, including those provided by a cable television company, without a related reduction in bill rates or compensatory services is unacceptable business practice. It certainly directly affects the unsubstantiated numbers of housewives in T&T who (though also statistically unsubstantiated), are perceived to be among the most voracious consumers of cable content, Desperate Housewives and the like.
HATT would find some valid statistics to back up its lobby – that each household on average contributes around 6,000 dollars yearly to their cable service provider. With an island-limited population, and increasing competition, those are customers cable providers cannot afford to lose.
And while, at it, HATT could also find adequate cause for pulling up the socks and tying the shoelaces of other delinquent telecommunications providers of deficient phone and internet services – but to that at another time.
More attention to local and educational channels, and (hint, hint) the now available Oprah Winfrey Network can fill the service deficit arising from discontinuation of the already paid-for movie channels, until of course, HATT gets its own channel, as its mother organization, the Network of NGO’s, has been looking into for some time.