On a spring afternoon, Xavier Niel enters the boardroom of Iliad SA, the Paris-based telecommunications firm he founded two decades ago. He’s wearing a white dress shirt and jeans, the same outfit he’s sported with Steve Jobs–like regularity for years. With his longish hair and rumpled attire, he looks more like a hacker who’s blundered into the wrong office than a man who’s worth $10.5 billion.
When Netflix agreed to pay Comcast to stream its movies to the Internet service provider's customers without infuriating delays, it essentially yielded to monopolistic extortion. Comcast, which has just agreed to acquire Time Warner Cable, will soon be the biggest ISP in the U.S., and stuttering video transmission to its clients is not an option for Netflix. The outcome, however, is good for consumers: They will not be charged for what they are not buying.
Anyone who has survived a marathon phone session with an Internet service provider knows the frustration, not to mention the elevated stress level, associated with today’s automated world. In many cases, customer service has been supplanted by do-it-yourself phone menus and websites. In some cases, do-it-yourself beats doing it with a real person.