Saturday, July 19, 2014


Recently I switched our DSL from Earthlink to AT&T U-Verse, and bundled the plan with a U-Verse Voice line.  I was somewhat reluctant to do so, given how for years I've believed that in a major emergency a copper POTS line with 48 VDC sourced from the central office is a better idea than a VOIP line with a four-hour battery backup.  However the cost savings were too good to pass up, E-911 is finally deploying, and 75% of the family have their amateur radio licenses.  If the poo-poo hits the rotating blade, I think we'll be OK - So bye-bye POTS line.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the service I've received.  The install went very well, and when the tech realized I used to work in telecom he even offered to double-bond my pairs so I now have a nice low-resistance line.  45 Mbps possible to a local fiber loop, I'm seeing about 30 Mbps effective with higher rates during the night.  Every customer service agent I've spoken to has been polite and knowledgable, and they seemed genuinely interested in making sure I'm happy with U-Verse.

Of course, I don't believe for a second that the Death Star has been magically transformed into a chirpy little startup full of love, compassion, and (with apologies to +Sandra Meow and +Paul Lannuier) cute cat GIFs.  The tiger can't change its stripes.  They're just hiding their megacorporate stupidity under a veneer of "We Wuv U" until I'm past my 30 day no-risk trial.  Which is why I'm not very surprised by today's incident.

Our U-Verse service was installed on 7-July.  Our old POTS service billing date was the 13th of each month.  I should have received a pro-rated refund on the extra five days, but I wasn't going to sweat that.  Then the 13th rolls around and I get a bill for my old POTS line.  I call the 800 number, wait on hold for 15 minutes, they quack at me for 10 minutes, and then tell me I need to speak with the other people in the POTS line department.  Call is transferred, gets lost in transit, call drops.  I call back, get through to someone, but their system starts sending DTMF tone sequences over and over again, so I have to hang up.  Call back again.  This time I get a human, and I explain the situation.  The following conversation occurs after I ask why I'm being billed for a month of my old POTS line:
  • Agent: "That's just the way AT&T billing works."  
  • Me: "I'm sorry, but I'm confused.  I switched to U-Verse on July 7th.  This bill is for services from July 13th through August 12th.  I'm already paying for U-Verse as of July 7th.  Why would I also pay for my old line?"
  • Agent: "Let me see what I can do..."  [Much typing in background ensues]
  • Agent: "Since you're a valued customer, I can offer you a credit of 50% on your bill."
  • Me: "Well, I appreciate your offer, but you haven't really answered my question.  I'm paying for U-Verse now.  And I'm happy with it, by the way.  Why are you asking me to pay for my old service too?"
  • Agent: "That's just the way AT&T works."
  • Me: "You seem like a nice guy.  Let me ask you this...  Just between you and me.  Does this bill make sense?  I understand that you're just following company guidelines given to you by your boss.  If our roles were reversed, would this make sense to you?  Let's set aside the idea that this is quote-unquote "the way AT&T works."  Would you think this bill is fair?"
  • Agent: [Pause] "Since I see that you switched to U-Verse, I can credit you for the entire bill."
I realize this is a naive notion, but wouldn't it be better if I didn't have to spend 30 minutes on the phone arguing for fairness in billing?  Clearly it's within their power to NOT try to double bill me.  This wasn't a mistake; the agent said clearly it's "the way AT&T works".  Had he said "Sorry, this is a mistake, I'll credit you in full right now." I would have accepted it as a mistake.  Did they think I wouldn't notice?  Why try to double bill me in the first place?  Why risk making me angry?  Why offer me 50% credit, then cave to 100% credit when it's clear I'm not going to back down?  I've been happy with U-Verse so far, even telling friends that I'm pleased so far with the equipment performance and the customer service.  That's gone out the window now.  I'm not sure if the agent realized I was still within my 30 day no-risk trial, or if maybe I got through to him on a personal level.  (The negotiator in me would like to believe it was the latter, of course.)  Regardless of what happened with the agent, the fact remains - this was a deliberate attempt by AT&T to take my money under false pretenses, and I'm unlikely to trust them again.

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