Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An AT&T service nightmare

It's unfortunate that nowadays the only way to motivate big companies to provide even a minimally acceptable level of customer service is to resort to public shaming.  I am in the midst of the most nightmarish catch-22 scenario I have ever experienced in my life (and that is saying something because our cable provider is Comcast.)  The situation is so complicated I hardly know where to begin.

The TL;DR version is: our AT&T uVerse internet stopped working last Wednesday (nearly a week ago now) and they haven't been able to fix it.  I have lost count of how many different people I've talked to, but twice I was assured that the problem would be fixed and it wasn't, and now I'm being told that the problem can't be fixed and they have to start over from scratch, re-install our service, and give us a brand new account.

Here's the long version.

We had two services from AT&T: a regular residential phone line (known in the trade as a POTS line, or Plain Old Telephone Service) and a DSL line, which is a separate signal carried over the same copper wire as the phone line.  A few months ago I started getting notices from AT&T that they were discontinuing the DSL service and I would have to switch over to uVerse.  It turns out that uVerse is actually DSL, but the signal is carried over a fiber optic instead of a copper cable.  In our case, the fiber doesn't go to our house, it stops a few block away (I'm not sure exactly where) and the signal is converted to copper.  The upshot is that from our point of view, uVerse and DSL look exactly the same, except that they gave us a new uVerse-branded modem to replace our old DSL modem.

I resisted switching to uVerse as long as I could because I am a big believer in the if-it-aint-broke-don't-fix-it school of thought.  (And I'm sad to say I feel quite vindicated by the quagmire I find myself in.)  But the writing was on the wall, so I signed up.  They offered me a phone-plus-internet package for less than I was currently paying, so it seemed like a good deal.

On the day of the installation, though, I got my first nasty surprise.  The phone line that was packaged with uVerse was not our old phone line, it was a VOIP (voice-over-IP) line carried over the uVerse internet.  I didn't want a VOIP line, I wanted a POTS line (ask me in the comments if you want to know why) so I had to cancel the initial order and place a new one for internet-only service.

The installation was re-scheduled, and they had some problems that caused it to take all day, but they finally got it working.  And for about two weeks I was a happy customer.  The uVerse line seemed to be more reliable than the old DSL line, which had a nasty habit of going off-line at random times.

Then last Wednesday evening we came home to discover that the uVerse internet was down.  I noticed this right away because we don't have cell coverage at our house, so instead we have a microcell, which is connected to the uVerse internet.  When the internet stops working, so does the microcell, and so do our cell phones.

I thought the problem might just fix itself, so I waited until Thursday afternoon to call AT&T.  I immediately got a runaround.  Tech support told me that the problem was with the billing department, and the billing department told me that the problem was with tech support.  I was transferred back and forth between tech and billing four times that day, but by the end I was assured that the problem would be fixed the next day (Friday, the 20th), and that someone would call me to follow up.

Friday came and went.  The problem persisted and no one called.  So on Saturday I called again.  Tech support again told me that the problem was in billing, but billing was closed and wouldn't open again until Monday.  But "rest assured" they would take care of everything on Monday.  (This time a supervisor did call and left a message on my answering machine assuring me that I did not have to worry.)

You can probably guess where this is going.  Monday came and went.  Problem not fixed.  No follow up call.  So I called AT&T for a third time.

I will spare you some of the details.  The story has changed this time around.  Instead of, "We know what the problem is, we can and will fix it, don't worry" the story I am now being told is that my account has been cancelled but they don't know why and they can't find out.  There is no way to fix this problem.  My only option is to sign up for uVerse internet all over again.

Funny thing, though: AT&T's on-line portal shows my account is still active.  I can log in, look at the account status, and the ultimate irony, see how many days are left until I get my first bill.  So although AT&T seems to lack the technical competence to actually provide the service they contracted to provide, they somehow still seem to managing to muster the wherewithal to take my money.

When I got off the phone with the last person I spoke with I was told to expect an immediate call back from someone who would take my order for new uVerse service.  It has been over an hour since then and no call.  As far as I can tell, I am stuck in permanent limbo with no internet service, no way to fix it, and no way to shut off the bills.  The perfect storm of corporate incompetence.

[UPDATE] Latest word from AT&T: my account was cancelled.  They have no idea why.  The only way to recover is to re-install uVerse.  So they need to send a tech out, despite the fact that it's already been installed once.  Earliest this can happen is Friday.  They very generously offered to waive the installation fee this time.


David desJardins said...

It seems easy to solve your problem, you already have Comcast to your residence, get Comcast broadband. It's probably going to be faster and more reliable than Uverse anyway.

Ron said...

I actually have Comcast internet. The uVerse line is a backup, and also for our microcell so that when that fails AT&T can't blame Comcast.

Luke said...

Have you tweeted about this? Per a friend of mine who's in the analyze-tweets-and-respond-quickly industry, they can be quite effective. I suggest something like "AT&T mysteriously cancelled my internet; more here: <compressed url to your blog post>".

Ron said...

> Have you tweeted about this?

Yes. And AT&T responded. And I responded to them with my contact info, but they have not followed up.


Luke said...

Tweet again with the appropriate "I'm ticked off at this company's terrible support" hashtag, so that all these complaints can be nicely aggregated. :-) Death by a thousand pricks. Or perhaps repentance after a thousand pricks. But then again, this is AT&T we're talking about.

Publius said...

You want a POTS line either for:
1. A FAX machine
2. The 99.999% reliability

Ron said...

3. No compression artifacts
4. No latency
5. Works even during extended power outages
6. Uncontested legal expectation of privacy
7. Compatible with our home alarm system
8. If it ain't broke, don't fix it