My family and I have been AT&T customers for years. Ever since my senior year of high school (7 years ago!), when on Mother’s Day we signed up for our first family plan – handing out identical cell phones to every family member – we arrived on the scene at AT&T and have been pretty faithful customers ever since. So much so, that when our BellSouth internet really started sucking, we turned to AT&T for better DSL.
At least, until this past summer.
I spent summer at home, in between the end of a master’s degree and the start of a Ph.D., working as a contractor for Google. I also took the opportunity to troubleshoot and diagnose what seemed to be perpetually slow DSL speeds; since only my parents lived at home, it wasn’t a high priority for them to fix, but with all the children at home over the summer and renters moving in at summer’s end, we needed to find out why the internet was crawling.
We were getting consistent download/upload speeds of 0.3 Mbps/0.1 Mbps, which is atrocious for DSL that was advertised as being 3.0 Mbps/1.0 Mbps; the download speeds would never, ever exceed 0.5 Mbps. We’re talking literally a few packets above dial-up at these speeds, which is absolutely unacceptable. Thus began my calling escapades to AT&T.
Starting in June, I contacted AT&T about twice a week. Every time we went through all the usual steps: connect straight to the modem, power cycle the modem, reboot the computer, test the speed, and so on. Same dismal speeds every time, and on-site tests by the AT&T engineers confirmed a very noticeable drop in speeds between their hubs and our modem.
At first, we thought it was a wiring problem. So they sent out a technician (we had to try three times to get this to happen; the first time they forgot about us, and the second time he didn’t fix what we needed) to check the wiring. He fixed a few things, and our speeds went up to about 0.5-0.7 Mbps download consistently. An improvement, but still nowhere near our advertised speeds.
Thus I continued calling. And the standard troubleshooting steps continued. Next, they sent us a new modem, since apparently our model was discontinued several years ago. While helping our internal network speeds, it didn’t help our downstream connection; speeds still held steady just below 1.0 Mbps download, hardly 1/3 of our advertised speeds.
Finally, somewhere in mid-to-late July, another technician informed us that the reason behind our dismal speeds was because we were connected to the AT&T hub via a copper wiring that was fifteen miles long, and thus a significant amount of our signal was degrading along the length of the wiring before finally reaching our house. He said: “You should never have been sold this plan in the first place. I’ll switch you to the nearby hub a block from here.”
Wonder of wonders, when he did, our speeds jumped to 6.0 Mbps download. Twice what we were being advertised.
We’ve been having these speed issues for years now, but have been faithfully paying the bills in spite of these issues. My Dad recently tried calling AT&T to see about some sort of credit for all the years of paying for a service we shouldn’t have been sold in the first place, and the conversation went something like this:
Dad: “I’d like to see about a credit for the last year of service we shouldn’t have been sold.”
AT&T Rep: “I’m sorry, our system only goes back a few months.”
Dad: “Let me speak to your supervisor.”
AT&T Sup: “Sir, this was not our responsibility. You should have known that this service was not ideal for you.”
Dad: “Wait a minute. You sold us a faulty service for two years, and now you’re blaming us?!”
Yes folks, that’s right: an AT&T supervisor blamed us for paying for a regularly-advertised and standard service that, due to technical issues beyond the sight of consumers, shouldn’t have been sold to us in the first place.
My Mom called up the consumer advocate Clark Howard and was even played live on his show, but unfortunately his message (or that of his right-hand woman) was that there really wasn’t any avenue we could take, as AT&T insulates itself pretty well in terms of its legalese from having to deal with the fallout of treating its customers like shit.
I’ve put up with crappy cellular service. I’ve put up with AT&T’s transparently lame excuses for how it’s the fault of iPhone users, and not their own god-awful network, for why they can’t seem to consistently provide the quality of service they advertise (and their competitors successfully deploy). I’ve put up with AT&T’s pompous attitude regarding its customers, believing itself to be the premier cellular service and therefore without a reason to improve itself.
But this goes beyond all that. AT&T just blamed a customer for taking a shitty deal from them. I’ve certainly learned my lesson:The moment the iPhone is released on Verizon, I’m switching. The moment my iPhone dies and I haven’t the money to buy another one, I’m switching to Verizon. I’m already using Comcast for all my internet needs (which, despite its dismal customer service ratings, has actually been very helpful for me whenever I’ve needed to call them – their technicians are on time, helpful, and do exactly what they came to do – and their customer support has always solved my problems quickly), and for over a year now I’ve been telling people that if I could do it all again, I wouldn’t buy an iPhone (or any sort of smartphone).
I’ve been looking to unplug myself from the iPhone for awhile now. But AT&T just made it a whole lot easier. Kudos to you, douche bags.