Sunday, July 27, 2008

AT&T Does Not Really Want Your Business

As it turns out, moving one's phone service isn't the snap I imagined.

When I called AT&T to move my local phone number about a block and a half, and to see whether AT&T wanted to sell me broadband or other services, I was unable to get a human.

I tried AT&T's web site -- oddly located at (someone at the firm has an ironic sense of humor; read on!) -- and went through a very laborious process of discovering that all the service bundles involved a crippled DSL service with not-very-broadband limit caps. To get faster service, you need to pay more, but those rates weren't available in bundles.

After about thirty minutes of fishing -- including getting numbers off paper bills and signing up for an online account management feature that didn't exist when I started service at this address -- I spotted a link for folks who are moving.


I clicked it and started putting services into my checkout cart. This also took a while, because picking a DSL service also involves several laboriously-slowly-served pages of options for whether you want to install the modem yourself or want a $200 tech visit, or whether you want a modem or a modem-plus-wireless-gateway device, either of which costs money and both of which come with a mail-in coupon for the pre-sales-tax price of the device. They don't put all these options on one page, which would be a snap; they serve these options to you piecemeal, with every page taking about a minute to be served to your existing cable broadband connection, through which every other site on the Internet roars through like greased lightning.

Finally, I get it all set up. I look around for some place to ... you know ... tell AT&T where I'm moving. I don't see it so I figure I should click for checkout, and that the address will be part of the checkout option. After yet another glacial age, I see a page telling me the function I attempted was down due to maintenance, apparently the exact same 'maintenance' that was up last week when I got the same error. The text in the maintenance message invites me, if I want to order a product or service, to call a toll-free number:

For the record, I know this dude. He normally wears his hair trimmed close to the skull, and keeps every hair perfectly organized with military precision in an orderly grain pattern. The wild corona of hair depicted in this ad existed only after they let him stand for a month in the sun waiting for a human on AT&T's toll-free number. He's only smiling because he's begun to hallucinate, and thinks the shimmering oasis near the horizon is surrounded by dancing girls. He is presently recuperating in a sanatorium, which I can't identify due to federal health privacy guidelines.

I roll my eyes. I called the toll-free number over a week ago trying to set up service, and couldn't get a human despite heroic efforts to find some department willing to sell me services if I pleaded. But I dial the number.

A recorded voice asks me what I want, and suggests I say things like "pay a bill."

Angrily, I say: "Moving."

The voice asks me if I'm moving and want to move current service to a new address.

I'm shocked. "Yes," I barely stammer.

I hear sounds I normally associate with transferred calls, and hear another recording explaining how that while AT&T is open 24-hours, that office isn't able to take my call. The recording does not suggest at any time when a human might deign to take my money.

I have a referral code, CH1020133, by which I can purportedly track whether users actually achieve service orders through AT&T's site. I offer a donut to the first person who succeeds. Or a coffee. Your pick; I'll ship at my expense. (UPDATE: to compete for the coffee or donut, you may have to use the site to enter the referral code, though I see referral code boxes in the checkout window displayed before users are informed the online service registration is a big time sink that doesn't lead to service activation or orders or address changes at all. Take your pick. I will wait to see whether AT&T tells me I have a referral, but I won't be holding my breath -- their service is the pits!)

I don't think AT&T is actually taking new customers at all this month, unless maybe for cellular service activated with in-person human involvement.

When I used to get calls asking whether I wanted AT&T to provide me with some service or another, I used to lambast the callers with unhappy recollections of what AT&T charged to rent me phones when AT&T held a lawful monopoly on telephone service in the United States. I remembered for years, though it's slipped my mind now whether it was $19.95 a phone a month, or $25 a phone a month, for folks who wanted multiple-line phones with rollover. If you had a modem, though, and used it much, you really needed two lines.

Remember 300 baud dial-in to your favorite local BBS? Compuserve?

Heh. This stuff is so much cheaper now. If AT&T weren't promising to bundle unlimited long-distance calling with local service, they'd never have a prayer of selling me any service of any kind ever again.

If I can't move the service within a week, I'll find a different local provider and post the information here. For long distance, I've been using ECG's long-distance service and honestly, they're a dream.

Get this: when you call, you can get a human. You rarely do this, because the phone bill is not only cheap, it's consistently accurate. Unless you are curious about weird things like international rate plan options to specific countries, you can happily never call ECG at all.

Given how little ECG charges, maybe I don't need to pay anyone for unlimited long-distance service.

Hmm . . . .

UPDATE: ECG does not need to be called over international rates any longer, as they're available online. Email billing can get you 2.5¢/min rates. I've had these guys for years and love them -- chiefly because I never notice they are there because the service always works. Look carefully and notice none of my links to ECG have any kind of referral/kickback data embedded in them. This is a real endorsement.

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