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The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

We know about Volkswagen and the “diesel dupe” fraud. Don’t study VW though, them too far and far removed from us. Flow isn’t — study them.   So, let’s. Where is Flow in corporate fraud? Is to block, to steal? In Flow’s case, I say yes; but you be the judge.

This is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines “steal”: “Take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.”

If I sold you my car and gave you the two sets of keys, it’s yours. If I came back later, in the night or in the day or in the afternoon or at dusk or in between all of them with a third set of keys and drove away with the car, I stole it. Right? But I warned you that I could take it back because I had a third set of keys. It is buried up in the fine print so I wouldn’t get no sty in me eye.

The car is physical; it is tangible. You can see it, touch it and smell it. Those properties make the case of theft straightforward … ish. But when you steal a thing that is intangible, not physical, invisible, not having a physical presence, the situation becomes more complicated and difficult to nail down. The transgressor will make up all sorts excuses and give “reasons” for their actions. Enter Flow.

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Flow sells some tangible goods — cell phones. They also sell some intangible stuff — TV channels. Not surprisingly, customers do not have problems with Flow sending a teef man to steal back the cell phone you bought from them. That would be a slam dunk case so Flow don’t go there. Regrettably, we cannot say the same for the intangible stuff they sell — TV channels.

There was a letter in Searchlight recently from a customer asking Flow not to block their TV channel(s) that came with the package they bought from Flow. Blocking is Flow’s third key; and Volkswagen’s “defeat device” software that they used to hide their scam. We know that Volkswagen was severely punished. And quite rightly. But in Third World countries, who gets prosecuted and punished? The answer is: it depends. Case in point. Look at the way they are handling the Suh Louis’ citizenship issue. Contentious, deceitful and drawn-out. And how they handled Camillo’s — clean, honest and quick. Same point same question; but watch the handling. That’s Third World power brokers for you.) Who looks out for the consumer in the Third World? That is what the letter-writer tacitly addressed and answered: nobody. Until it affects a high-up often.

So then, is blocking in the fine print of Flow’s contract? If it is, does it allow to take back what they have sold? And make some extra money on the side? Just so? We know that Flow is a monopoly and as masochistic as it may seem, we accept that monopolies will screw us. But Flow abuses the privilege. It seems, though, that protection by fine print may not be a fait accompli.

In an essay, “Does Anyone Read the Fine Print?”, published by The University of Chicago Press, the authors made the point that “In competitive markets, a minority of term-conscious buyers is sufficient to discipline sellers from using unfavorable boilerplate terms.” And that academics, courts, and policymakers “in this debate realise that, in many circumstances, a majority of buyers do not read fine print. For many buyers, too much time is required to read and give meaningful assent, and fine print can be too difficult to understand or may seem unimportant.” I can tell you right now, exclude Flow out from “competitive markets” and do not expect the Third World “to discipline sellers.”

In a separate essay, “A Psychological Account of Consent to Fine Print,” published by The University of Pennsylvania Law School “Melvin Aron Eisenberg has argued that concerns about form contracts ‘rest ultimately on the limits of cognition.’ ” “That some contract terms are hard to understand because they are so complicated, jargon-filled, illegible, or otherwise confusing on their face that they are truly difficult for most people to understand.” It goes on, “As Eisenberg and others have argued … market forces not only fail to protect consumers, but actually force firms to exploit their customers’ limited attentional resources in order to survive.” Crikey, “exploit” is Flow – direct. It goes on, “Humans have limited processing capacity and limited attentional resources …” Crikey, that is we – direct.

The quotations may be American law but its integrity, moral correctness and high principle must not be missed. Then, not overlooked. It applies to all peoples. Flow’s actions are morally inferior and legally suspect. If they feel they are free to use the third key to block, rob you of, what you paid for and force you to pay extra for something else because of some fine print, then they are unscrupulous bullies. As far as I am concerned, they can shove the fine print where the sun doesn’t shine.

And when they do the block, it is not as forgiving as taking “without intending to return it”. Like they will give you back tomorrow. They never took away the channel. What they took (stole?) — the stuff in the channel — they can never return it. If I sat down in my partisan glee, igloo at my side, to watch Manchester United play Liverpool and lo, to man’s dismay, Flow blocked the game and, in its place, put on some stupid show of their pleasure, I still, sure, have the TV channel but I am not getting what I paid for: Manchester United vs Liverpool. They robed me of that. And they can never return it. Not even if they had a mind to. They don’t. It is gone forever. Next year will be a different game, different circumstances and the outcome a different meaning.

But, as I said, in this case, Flow is dealing with intangible goods, and I have heard (hearsay) that so they have come up with a slick, suspicious excuse for blocking: it is international; or it is the international standard; or it is international way of doing things; or blocking is the international norm; some international crap excuse or other. Well, they can take international, too, and stick it where monkey put the nuts.

If blocking goes on in other countries, it does not make it right here; it makes it wrong there. That can be argued. What cannot, though, is that there is nothing, nowhere, no how that is as universally understood and internationally accepted as the definition of “steal.” The invitation for you to judge is open: blocking or stealing?

To fight Flow is to fight city hall, which does not seem to daunt the letter-writer. Bravo. Normally, I would have pledged my help. Alas, I do not have a TV so my help would be thrown out as hearsay. Do you hard done by TV people throw this out as hearsay?

Patrick Ferrari

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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