Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The same old New AT&T, little has changed

Having just gotten off the phone with the customer service department of the new AT&T yet one more time, the first thing that comes to mind is the old Lilly Tomlin bit, "We don't care, We don't have to care, We are the phone company!"

As a Technowledgest by vocation (it's not just a job, it's a lifestyle), I have been an early adopter of many new technologies; especially in the area of personal communications. A little over 2 years ago, when AT&T wireless merged with Cingular, I was lured by the media hype and lower prices into moving from Nextel to Cingular for my cell phone service (3 phones). The only problem was it took took over a month and numerous calls to get SBC to fix the busy - no answer - call forwarding on my home office ISDN line to roll to the Cingular number and not the old Nextel number. After that was fixed, things went smoothly for several years. I was happy with the savings, and the steadily growing pool of rollover minutes were great.

Then I busted the screen on my phone.

The local Cingular store where I had set up my account was little help other than to offer to sell me a replacement for my originally free phone for $150.
I did discover after a bit of research if I put my "SIM" card my mom's phone, it worked just fine with my number. This arrangement solved my personal communication needs until I could pick up a replacement phone. I found one later that night new, in the box (sans SIM card), for $50 on eBay, I put in my SIM card in it when it arrived and life moved on.

Just before Christmas 2006, the replacement phone began to get flaky. The screen would go blank until I physically abused it, at which point it would work again for a while. By this point my contract with Cingular was over and I was on month to month plan. So I headed out to look at phones again. This time I was looking at the new generation of Smartphones. My neighbor had a Verizon 6700 Smartphone and was complaining about loosing the stylist out of its storage spot in the antenna, and was also having problems with the magnetic clasp on his belt pouch. The magnet kept turning the phone back on somehow (I will mutter more about that elsewhere) so that was out.

I took a brief look at the other providers and Sprint's deal looked good, but in the end I got suckered by the media hype and decided to stay with Cingular for several reasons. I ended up getting a Cingular 8525 on eBay. Here is a short list showing my thoughts and reasoning:

1. First was the fact that it worked with my home and office WiFi along with several coffee shops in the area.
2. I was told by the sales person that the 3G data plan was optional and not required.
3. I have literally many thousands of minutes of rollover time I did not want to loose.
4. Although Sprint was spending a lot of advertising dollars trying to tell me they were faster and in more cities, it did not matter to me, as I had all the services I needed here in Columbus, Ohio.
5. The fact that AT&T was purchasing Cingular did bother me. I had problems converting from old AT&T local service to the NEW AT&T local service when SBC took them over because I was an Old AT&T and not a current SBC customer. The sales person at the local Cingular store assured me that as long as I did not use my new-phone discount to purchase the phone and purchased it outright without discount, I would not be locked into a contract extension.

With the idea that the New AT&T was going to solve all my current and future needs, I went to eBay and purchased a used phone that would not lock me into 2 more years.

When the phone arrived, I put my Sim card in and the phone worked just fine, as did the WiFi. I decided to hold off signing up for the data service until after Christmas and only used the Data side of the phone with free WiFi hot spots and my WiFi DSL service at home also purchased from AT&T. When I got my first bill, I had an 18 cent data charge I did not understand. I called the Cingular customer support to about this charge. I was told at that time I was being charged because I did not have a data package yet. I tried to have the data portion of the phone turned off at that time, but they refused. So I attempted unsuccessfully, as it turns out, to add a data package at that time. I tried both online and through Cingular's phone support to find out what if any data charges I could expect. At first the website said I had none (YET) and the Customer support person was also little help. On Jan 2, I called again in an attempt to verify my service. I told them again about the 18 cent charge and was assured that as long as I paid the $39.95 for the current month, the weekend delay in getting the service turned on should not be a problem. I was assured that it would all be taken care of and if I did not see the correct charges on my next bill, to call back and customer service would be able to fixed at that time.
Well, the next bill arrived with not only the $39.95 charge I was expecting to see but an additional $164.48 in data charges.

Considering I had been warned that there might be some billing problems and was told on the previous contact that I should to call Customer service to get things straightened out if this should happen back on Jan 2.

I called today when the bill arrived and had one of the most unsatisfying experiences I have ever had with AT&T.

The bottom line is, they the new AT&T does not care what I was told, when I called previously.
It seems that the result of my first call was to automatically put me on a 10 cents per K plan and I was stuck with the $164.48 in data charges accrued between Thursday Dec 28 2006 when I first called Cingular and Jan 02 2007 when the New AT&T got the order straighten out and entered correctly. I guess the rules changed New Years Eve or something ?

When I got the bill on Feb 6, I called and complained as directed. The customer service rep said they were sorry I was not happy but there was nothing they could do about it. After I threatened to cancel my AT&T home phone, my ISDN home business line, and DSL service over this problem did they offer to give me the standard $50 disgruntled customer discount on my next bill, but would not make any adjustment to the existing bill.

At this point I was hot. First, I considered setting up an ATT-SUCKS.COM website and decided to Google it first. I soon discovered that the reason I saw so little joy from the Cingular/At&T customer service people was due to the fact that they just did not care. There are thousands of pissed off customers threatening to take their business elsewhere every day. Hell, they are even ripping off our service men in the Middle East with a 32 cent a minute rate to call back home from the safety of the PX. If they call home using a calling card from a public phone booth on the streets, where AT&T does not have an exclusive contract, it costs them less than a nickel a minute . I digress ... Google it yourself ... it is shocking what AT&T is doing to our troops in the Middle East....

Ok, where was I ... Oh yes, bogus AT&T-Cingulars wireless data charges. To help put this in perspective, compared to the 10 cents per 1K Cingular feels they can charge for their gold plated service, most Internet providers would charge but a few dollars. To charge $164 for 6 days of email access should be criminal. The contract price for unlimited service for that period of time is about $10.00, not 16 times that! The young lady on the phone pointed out that I was lucky to get it corrected in less than a week, because if it had not been corrected, my extra data charge for the month would have been about $365, so I should not be complaining. This on top of my normal phone package costs for one month!

Bottom line is that between the four phone bills I pay each month, (AT&T and SBC still have not managed to combine their billing systems yet) I am paying AT&T several thousand dollars per year and this $164 charge is more important to them than keeping my business, or their good name.

I guess it is time to switch back to one of the cable companies for my internet and look closer at VOIP solutions. When my wife gets home and I tell her about this go around with AT&T's customer support, the "I told you So's" will begin and will not end for a long time to come. She has said all along that the New AT&T was just as bad, if not worse, than the old AT&T and I was just deluding myself otherwise. Come to think about it, I will just pay the bill and keep quiet....

"We don't care, we don't have to care, we're THE Phone Company AGAIN!"

till later ....