A Long AT&T Rant

Courtesy of XKCD
Licensed by Randall Munroe under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Noncommercial License

I’m pretty sure a monkey must have designed AT&T’s sales and tech support system. That’s not to say that the actual staff are monkeys — they’re perfectly nice people trying their best, but at the end of the day, they can only do whatever their sales / tech support computer software lets them do. Basically, I’m saying the engineers who designed this entire system were monkeys.

Or at the very least, their managers were.

But first, the beginning of this story: Back in April or May or so, I decided to switch from Comcast to AT&T for Internet service — mostly because I was pissed off about how they were raising my bill by $1 each month. The bills, of course, provided no helpful hints about why the amount kept going up. Yes, I could’ve just called Comcast and contested it, but I wasn’t keen to get into a pissing match with Comcast over $1. So I decided to dump the bastards altogether and switch to the only other game in town — AT&T.

Anyhow, shortly setting up a termination date for Comcast, I ordered Internet U-verse service from AT&T via their website. During the ordering process, the website asked me whether I wanted a 2wire modem-router combination or just a modem. I already had my own router, so I figured I’d just order the modem.

A few days later, I get an e-mail from AT&T saying there was an issue for my order and that I should call customer support. I go ahead and do so, wasting about an hour on hold. When I finally get through, the customer service rep looks at my order, tells me that the e-mail was a mistake, and everything’s A-OK. OK then, whatever.

On the next day, however, I receive another e-mail from AT&T repeating that there’s an issue with my account and I need to call customer support. I call them again, wait on hold forever, and tell them: Hey, this is the second time. Are you sure there’s no problem? The customer service rep checks and tells me that it must have been another glitch in the system. Everything should be A-OK. Well, if you insist.

Then on the third day, I get yet another e-mail from AT&T saying the exact same thing. So I call, wait on hold, and this time insist that either they need to fix whatever it is that’s keeping my order from completing or stop sending me these e-mails. The customer service rep elevates this to his boss (which means another transfer), and then finally, someone tells that that there was an issue with my credit check and I need to enroll in auto-pay to get this through. This sounds odd to me, as my credit score is actually pretty good, but whatever. I tell them to set up auto-pay.

They then tell me that AT&T needs to send a technician to set up my Internet access. I pick a date from some choices and then the conversation goes like this:

“We have a morning time slot, an afternoon time slot, and an evening time slot.”

“What time is the morning slot?”

“9 to 11”

“What time is the afternoon slot?”

“11 to 1”

“Um … what time is the evening slot?”

“1 to 3”

“1 to 3 … A.M.?”

“No, P.M.”

“Seriously … that’s evening?”

“Yes sir.”

Also, the only dates they had open for the next few weeks were weekdays. Brilliant.

Anyhow, I pick the closest date I could. Note that during all this, my Comcast service was set to expire. I had originally anticipated that two and a half weeks would be more than enough time for AT&T to get Internet access up.


I mention this to the service rep, and they basically suggest that it’s my fault for not setting a later termination date for Comcast. Well, yeah, but it’s kinda your fault for delaying my order and not willing to have your technicians work past 3. Either those technicians have an awesome union (awesome for them, not for me), or AT&T is seriously unwilling to pay overtime. Probably both.

Anyhow, the modem comes in the mail. I open it up, plug it in, and nothing happens. The little piece of paper in the box tells me that nothing’ll work until the technician gets there on XYZ date. Sigh.

I wait until my activation date. I wait and wait and wait, and unsurprisingly, the technician never shows up. So off goes another angry dial to AT&T, another half hour or so on hold, a transfer, and then the service rep tells me, “Actually, you don’t need a technician. Just plug it in. It should work.”

I do this. It works now. Miraculously.

“Wait, then why did I need to schedule a technician time then?”

“Oh, that’s just when we activate your service on our end.”

Seriously? WTF AT&T?

So now my Internet’s working. Everything’s A-OK. Or so I think. It turns out that my Internet connection likes to disconnect itself (and not reconnect) after about one hour. At the point, I have to do a hard reset to the modem get Internet access again.

I’m pretty sure the problem’s with the modem and not my router, since (1) I need to reset the modem, not the router to fix my connection; (2) my router worked fine with AT&T before (and with Comcast more recently); and (3) plugging my computer directly into the modem doesn’t work.  So I call AT&T again. Their automated phone tech system makes me answer a bunch of silly questions (“Did you restart your modem off?” “Did you restart your computer?” “Is your modem plugged in?”) and it’s only after jabbing the 0 on the keypad a number of times before I got to explain to a human being what my problem was. The tech support guy pulls my info, acknowledges in a semi-apologetic way that the problem is with the modem or the connection, and that they’ll send over a technician immediately.

Curiously, this technician is available after 3pm on a weekend.

Anyhow, the technician comes over, does his tests, and then tells me that the problem is actually with my router. He also tells me that whoever I talked to on the phone was an idiot. He suggests that I get the combination 2wire router / modem instead. It costs $100, but he tells me I can talk to the sales people and just return my old modem and get the 2wire for a discount.

OK, sounds good. I go call the AT&T customer service reps again. The service rep categorically deny that there’s any way to exchange my old modem for a 2wire. I get pissy, and the rep tells me she’ll elevate this to her boss, who’ll call me back in 48 hours.

48 hours later — no call. Not surprised. At this point, I’m so tired of wasting half my life on hold that I decide to just waltz into an AT&T store and buy a 2wire modem / router myself. I walk in, explain the situation, and the sales agent there has a shiny new modem in my hands in less than ten minutes. Easy!

I go back home and swap my old modem / router combo for the 2wire. And … it doesn’t work. Not so easy. Annoyed, I check the manual to see if I missed anything. Nope. So I call AT&T back again. This time I get a tech support person named Yvonne on the line. Yvonne happens to be a very nice lady, and I have nothing but good things to say about her.

However, I have very few good things to say about AT&T as a whole (“You hire nice people” seems to be it). After explaining to Yvonne the problem, she tells me that my connection is keyed to my original modem. She can switch that key, but only between modems of the same type. I ask her why this is, and it basically boils down to: “The little drop-down box on my terminal won’t give me any other option.” She tells me that she’ll elevate this to her supervisor and that she’ll personally call me back the next day. Surprisingly, she does call me back, but it’s only to tell me that she and her supervisor have both been put on hold themselves (tech support for tech support, heh) and that she’ll get back to me whenever she’s done being transferred around.

Finally, Yvonne and another sales guy gets back to me. They tell me that because of the way AT&T’s system is designed, once you pick a modem, you can’t switch it. As to why the guy at the store sold me the 2wire to begin with … well, they’re baffled too. So basically, the only way forward for me is to terminate my old account and set up a new account. Really?

Also, a consequence of canceling my old account early is that the system automatically charges me an early termination fee. Apparently, I may have to call back in and ask them to remove the early termination fee. And as a consequence of creating a new account, I’m now locked in for another full year. Clever bastards.

Also, somewhere during the middle of this call, while I’m being transferred all around AT&T, I hear two technicians discussing my case:

“Why can’t he just hook up his own third-party router to the modem? It’d be a lot easier.”

“He can’t. Our modems use IPDSLAM tech. There aren’t any routers on the market compatible with it.”

So apparently, AT&T sold me a modem that was incompatible with any third-party routers on the market at the time, and then decided to make it really really hard to get a first-party router. You’re geniuses guys, absolute geniuses.

Anyhow, the 2wire has since arrived and been setup. I think all the fees on my old account have been dealt with. But now I’m really really nervous to ever terminate service again.

The best part? I remember telling the Comcast rep that I was switching because AT&T was cheaper. His response? “Well, you get what you pay for.” Also, he launched a mini-tirade against AT&T’s customer support staff. At the time, I just attributed it to him working for the competition.