Letter to Andy Geiss, Sr. Exec. V.P. AT&T Business and Home Solutions

As some of you might know, I’ve been having a little trouble with my DSL connection starting sometime last winter. AT&T operators and technicians have been very polite, for the most part, but they didn’t fix the problem yet.

Additionally, I needed a static IP address to make connections to client networks easier, and this did not go well, either, since most AT&T phone representatives only want to sell U-Verse and transfer you to tech support if you even mention static IPs. I finally got it, but at a bill rate three times what they sell it to business customers.

I sent a letter to the head of AT&T Business and Home Solutions:

Andy Geiss
Senior Executive Vice President – AT&T Business and Home Solutions
208 S. Akard St.
Dallas, TX 75202

Subject: Bill Rate on Internet Service

Mr. Geiss:

We run a small computer consulting business from our home, and we require a static Internet Protocol (IP) address to facilitate network connections with our clients’ servers and firewalls. Through a series of events that I will detail below, we managed to purchase a package of static IP addresses added to our account without, at the time, mention of the monthly rate for this package.

I assumed it would be similar to the $45 monthly plan advertised on your Web site for small businesses (notice that residential accounts do not show any product offerings with static IP addresses). I have included the comparable package listed in the small business section of the AT&T Web site so you can see what I was expecting to pay for this service.

In late February, I received the enclosed letter from AT&T that lists the price for this service at an exorbitant $115 a month, which is almost three times the rate that I expected. I have enclosed a copy of this letter as well.

When I received this letter, I called the AT&T Internet Services telephone number on my bill and spoke to a number of billing representatives who did not understand the package AT&T is providing my company and did not understand my questions. I spoke to a retentions representative after a while, and she could not explain why I was receiving the $115 bill rate instead of the lower business rate. I finally reached someone who gathered that my telephone line is a residential line, so I am a residential account, and the business pricing does not apply. This representative explained that my monthly total would be roughly $57 per month, which is half of the cost noted on the letter. She further explained that the price shown on the letter was not the monthly price, but represented a pro-rated price from my previous statement plus the next month’s charge, and that I would not be billed $115 monthly.

This satisfied me. AT&T’s representatives are friendly. However, I have now received my monthly bill, and, surprisingly, AT&T is indeed charging me $115 a month for the static IP package. This is unacceptable, frustrating, and if this is indeed the bill rate, I shall cancel the service.

As I mentioned – AT&T’s representatives are friendly. I know so well because every time I place a call to AT&T, I tend to work with 5 or 6 of them each incident.

Allow me to explain how I was finally assigned this package in the first place. At the beginning of January, I called the Internet Services number looking for a static IP package as to work like the one I had some years ago in the St. Louis area. The representative offered me a U-verse package instead, telling me a number of things that were untrue and – ultimately – impossible for my scenario – in the process. She told me the service was available in my area. As I mentioned, I have a home-based business, and I wanted to make sure that the U-verse product would meet my needs, so I asked if we could use DSL and U-verse concurrently. She said we could.

We established a date for the installation which AT&T postponed because of a problem on our line. When the technician arrived, he was not optimistic about our prospects for U-verse, as we were half a kilometer beyond the range of its transmission. Of course, he had to disconnect the DSL before his visit because the two products operate over the same physical cable and cannot run concurrently. He was unable to get a signal from the central office at my house box, and other technicians later could also not get a signal at the drop, so we canceled our U-verse order.

So I called the Internet Services toll free number again to ask for the service that I wanted in the first place. I talked to a customer service representative who tried to sell me U-verse again, and when I said I was ineligible and wanted a static IP, he transferred me to technical support. Well, he transferred me to a message that said technical support was only available during business hours, which one would assume included 10am CST.

I disconnected and called the Internet Services number again and reached another salesperson eager to pitch the U-verse product to me. I explained I wanted a static IP plan, and he transferred me to technical support. This time, I reached an actual technical support person, but of course he could not sell me a static IP plan, but he could help me configure one if and when someone else sold me the product. He tried to transfer me to sales, but after several minutes he came back onto the line to inform me that the customer service people were trying to sell U-verse to him, and he worked for AT&T. He tried to get a business sales person to handle my issue, but because my phone number is attached to a residential account, that person would not talk to me. This technical support operator finally patched me through to a supervisor named Raoul who told me he could order the static IP package for me, although he certainly didn’t mention $115 a month as its price, and told me someone would call me to confirm and help me set it up.

A week later, I checked the Web site to see if my order was processed, but it showed no orders associated with my telephone number. I ventured back into the AT&T voice-response phone tree, and it gave me an order number. I wanted to talk to an operator to confirm this was my order for the static IP package and not the order for U-verse. After trying to sell me U-verse, the customer service operator transferred me to a technical support person who then helped me configure my account. Although the technical support operator was friendly, she was put off when the configuration screens on my DSL modem did not match her script. Over an hour later, we finally got my router connected through the static IP.

The many hours I have spent on the phone attempting to buy a product and then trying to discern whether the monthly rate in the letter was accurate was coupled with intermittent service issues that we’ve had with our DSL service this winter and spring. In December, I called because our DSL connection was dropping intermittently, with the Internet becoming unreachable for a number of seconds or a number of minutes over a short period of time. When I called in December, the level one technical support operator ran me through the complete unplug everything checklist even as I protested that nothing in the house has changed in the three years we have had DSL service here. The call ended when he said he would run another test and call us back, but he never did. I would also like to stress that we are technical people running a technical business.

Our uptime improved a bit after the technicians corrected the problems on our line preceding the attempted U-verse installation, but after the DSL disconnect for the U-verse attempt, these problems recurred. They continue to recur even as we await a new buried cable from our drop. I have spent hours on the phone trying to convince AT&T to investigate issues on the line outside our house. As a result of all of this time and frustration, I am very displeased with technical support, customer service, and billing at this time.

Please respond with confirmation that AT&T can provide the DSL Internet Service with static IP at the $57 price or – preferably – the $45 price advertised on the Web site. I will not continue to pay $115 a month for this service. Or lack thereof. To ensure that I will not be penalized for a late payment, I am sending the amount noted on my bill at this time along with a copy of this correspondence to the payment address in Carol Stream, Illinois. After favorable resolution of this issue, please leave the overage as a credit on our account. We will only ask for a refund if we terminate the service.

Also, I would recommend improving your U-verse availability software and improve its integration into your marketing efforts. Even though we have confirmed we are not eligible for the U-verse service, we continue to receive weekly mailings and frequent telephone sales calls offering the service.

I look forward to your response.

I sent that last Friday.

On Monday, an AT&T subcontractor came to bury a new cable to replace the temporary drop line mentioned above. Instead of leaving it for an AT&T technician to make the connection, the subcontractor made the physical connections from the new cable to the drop stump by the road and to our house. He (or she) removed the temporary drop cable and left.

Without checking to make sure the phone line actually worked.

We returned to find our DSL and our voice line were not working. I called AT&T before checking the box and seeing what happened–the flattening of the grass, the line of bare dirt where the cable was buried, and the missing line. An AT&T technician came along the next day, after we were without service for over 24 hours to our home and our home business, and he discovered the buried cable was bad. He left us a new temporary cable lying across my lawn. Sometime soon, an AT&T subcontractor will come and bury another cable. Hopefully, I’ll be present this time and make sure that, if he wants to connect it, that it works before he leaves.

So I’ve been commenting on Twitter these months about my long times on the phone with AT&T and with my dissatisfaction. Yesterday, my first tweet on the new temporary cable was:

Fixing my DSL, AT&T disconnected my voice and Internet service for over 24 hours.

To which an AT&T Social Media Expert replied:

I am so sorry. Plse follow/DM @ATTTeamNatasha with details and Manager Nancy will assist. She works 9-6 EST. Thanks

This, my friends, put me into a dudgeon. I don’t know what is more ludicrous: The thought that AT&T customer service thinks 140 character bursts will help me with the problems when hours on the phone could not, or that it actually might in the 21st century be the better option since she hasn’t tried to sell me U-verse yet.

I went for years as a Southwestern Bell and later AT&T customer without complaint, and suddenly it’s all crep. I’d like to go back to those halcyon days where I felt my vendor was competent and capable of handling my needs.