It's a competitive world, and companies are being squeezed all around, so they seek to cut costs and increase their income any way they can. That's funny... we consumers are being squeezed all around, too! And if companies don't have a grush (that's an old-fashioned Israeli penny, for those who don't know) to spare, we consumers are doing far worse: we're in overdraft! In one sense, the modern relationship between consumers and service suppliers (or even manufacturers) has become a seesaw. Companies are anxious to attract customers, so they offer rock-bottom prices for their products or services. But prices can only be cut so much; there are expenses that have to be covered, and, somehow, companies have to make that money back. For example, when a supermarket offers a loss leader, they know that hordes of people will descend on the store for the on-sale product. But they're also counting on those customers to buy the higher-priced items, to make up for the expense of the sale item. Airlines also provide an object lesson in this: Fares are historically low, but with crowded planes and iffy (or nonexistent) service, flying is hell! You're always compromising something - either quality or service - when you buy cheap. But it's not just the bargain providers who are stinting on service these days. Full-price stores and service providers, encouraged by the example of how consumers sheepishly accept second-class as the norm, figure they can save money on quality and service, too. The result: The whole concept of quality and service has been mortally wounded, with consumers expecting to get the proverbial "finger" at every turn. Of course, you can always pay "premium" for "extra" quality or service - at a level that just a few years ago would have been considered "standard" (i.e., commercial air travel). And while I could perhaps sympathize with the bottom-feeders for stinting on quality and service, I think consumers know what to expect when they buy at "too good to be true" prices these days. I have nothing but contempt for companies that are charging top shekel for their goods and services but act like bargain sellers. Take, for example, an Internet service provider I work with, one of the six largest ISPs in Israel. They're not a fly-by-night company (they've been doing ISP for over a decade), and usually my only relationship with them is paying the connection charges, since I am pretty self-sufficient when it comes to computer setup, installation, etc. For the first time in a long time, though, I needed their help with something - something that would have required the imparting of about five minutes of advice (which, it turned out, was readily available on the Internet). But knowledge is power - and they weren't about to part with that knowledge without a hefty payment! Here are the details (don't worry, we won't get too technical). Due to circumstances beyond my control, I've been using an Internet router provided by Bezeq, the phone company, which I won in a lottery (or somehow or other got for free). The first time I plugged in the router, I ran for cover, because it had far too many features for a home setup. When I recovered, I unplugged it and put it on a shelf - where it stayed until my "normal" router died, and out of desperation I decided to give the router, made by Asus (the infamous Asus 604g, for those who have had the pleasure) a try. It actually works just fine and is more or less self-managing - except for one issue. In order to work on several Web sites, I need to access port 2082, for an online application called Cpanel. Unfortunately, there is something in the guts of the Asus router that prevents accessing that port (very strange, because I know a certain torrent program can download a certain file on an even more obscure port, 45601). After much effort configuring and reconfiguring, I figured I'd give my ISP a call. I'm a good customer - I pay my bills on time and don't bother them too much with silly questions. Now, though, I had a serious issue; perhaps, having worked with this router extensively, they could give me some advice on what to do. I mean, it's not like they'd be doing it for free. According to kamaze.co.il, the NIS 75.90 I pay these people each month puts them at the "upper crust" (i.e., second-most expensive) of ISPs in Israel. But no, said a pleasant fellow on the other end of the line (we'll call him "Oren"). That information is classified - available only to "preferred" customers. One of which I could be if I was willing to shell out a subscription to their "network services," at a cost of NIS 13.90 per month for a minimum of six months. "Wait a second," I told Oren. "You're saying that it's going to cost me nearly a hundred shekels for five minutes of time with your 'experts' to get this working?" "Yup," said Oren. "How about this," I said. "What if I 'subscribed' now, got the information, and then canceled my subscription after a month?" "Nothing doing," Oren said, you "make a commitment to pay," you pay. After much negotiating, Oren gave me his best offer: NIS 30 for a one-time conversation with the tech staff, who would guide me on what to do. Well, of course I refused. And after a lengthy conversation, he suggested I call Bezeq, which supplied me with the router in the first place. In fact, he said, check out the Bezeq support pages - there just happens to be a PDF discussing exactly what I was trying to do! Wasting no more time, I did just that and configured things according to the Bezeq site's document. Alas, still to no avail. Even though I had done everything right, I still couldn't get it to work. It was time for a call to Bezeq, which I pay an Internet-connection fee to each month - surely they would support what they provided? But I should have gotten an idea of what to expect from the ads they kept pitching during the long (very long) minutes I was on hold: "networking" services for NIS 10 a month, antivirus protection for NIS 13 a month, and other varied and sundry "products." And of course, when "Yaron," the Bezeq service rep, got on the phone, he quickly disabused me of my idea. The sought-after conversation could be had if I subscribed to Bezeq's "expert" service - for more money, of course. As it turned out, I got my answer for free - after a little more Googling. But the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth and in my wallet. In the old country, they used to call this kind of behavior "nickel and diming" - where a business tries to milk a customer for whatever it can. But it's usually associated with "clip joints" on the Lower East Side, or other such less than savory shopping districts. You'd expect a respectable company you've done business with for years to want to prevent alienating customers. For example, since the ISP in question was not the cheapest around, I told Oren, it's an indication that price is not necessarily the main motivation for customers to remain with their service. Why not just charge an extra NIS 5 across the board and provide tech help to all who need it? That would surely cover the costs entailed in a more generous approach to helping customers and enhance the experience for customers, who would feel more like humans and less like milk cows? To this Oren had no clear answer, and as a junior employee in a big conglomerate, he's the wrong person to ask. But if my ISP - or any other business or service provider, for that matter - prefers to think that price is the main (or perhaps only) motivation for my using their products or services, does that mean I'm a frier (sucker) for not automatically going for the cheapest option automatically? At least there, I won't feel I'm overpaying when I don't need "special services" - unlike my current dilemma.