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Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Telephone Company Seems To Be Desperate For Business!

It is Thursday evening. I come home from work, check a little bit of email, then break for dinner. I finish dinner and want to check email for a few minutes before I do the dishes, etc. And I can't. My computer says it does not have an internet connection.

Sure enough, the wireless connection icon in my taskbar has a red "X" over it, and there are no wireless networks available. Now, my first thought was that something was wrong with my computer. Maybe it wanted a reboot and this was its way of getting one! Like babies howling their head off when they are hungry!!

Just to check, I walked over to the laptop in the living room, fully expecting it to have full internet connectivity. But to my surprise, that computer did not have any internet connectivity either. My hope for a quick 10 minute resolution to the problem (by rebooting my computer) was starting to fade now.

My DSL modem is hidden under the bed in the guest bedroom. I moved the bed and looked at the DSL modem to try to figure out what was wrong with. Well, the modem is a 2-Wire modem-cum-wireless router. The model number is 2701HG-B. It was provided to me by AT&T when I initially signed up for DSL service with them about 2 years back. At that time, they charged me $70 for the modem, but gave me a credit of $50, so in effect, I paid $20 for the modem.

This modem has a bunch of lights on its front that tell you what is going on with it. In this case, it is supposed to have its power light, ethernet light, wireless light, DSL light and internet light on. But it only had its wireless light on, and the power light was flashing. No problem, I thought. All I had to do was power it down, wait a few seconds and power it back on. Something must have tripped it up, but whatever it was, it was in the past and unlikely to cause problems going forward.
2-wire 2701hg-b dsl modem
Well, that is obviously not what happened. I unplugged the modem from its power supply, waited a few seconds and plugged it back in. The power light now turned red and the wireless light stayed green. Not a good sign. I took the power cord out again, then unplugged the power supply adaptor from its outlet and plugged into a different wall outlet. I plugged the power supply into the modem again, and still nothing.

It was now 8 in the evening. I called up AT&T right away. After wading through their endless menus (including one infuriating voice-activated one that always guesses what you said wrong), I actually managed to connect to a live operator. He listened to me describe the symptoms of the problem. Then he announced to me that the modem's power supply had failed. I would have to get the modem replaced, or at least the power supply. He then asked me whether my modem was under warranty. I told him probably not since the warranty was only 1 year and I had had this modem for 2 years now. He then told me that I would have to contact AT&T during regular business hours on Friday to see if I could get a replacement modem.
2-wire 2701hg-b dsl modem back
As always, these things die only after normal business hours. They know precisely what the most inappropriate times for them to die are, seemingly! In any case, before I called up AT&T the next day, I had things to check out. I studied the power supply and found that it takes an input of 100-120V, and produces output of 5.1V. Yes, not 5V, not 5.5V, but 5.1V.

These manufacturers specifically design their products so that they can not work with generic replacement parts. If they used a run-of-the-mill wall-wart that supplies a standard voltage to the modem, then when one of them dies, you can just go out and get a new power supply instead of replacing the whole thing. But that would not do good things to their bottom-line. So, while claiming that they are environmentally conscious and other such nonsense, they also push these incompatible parts that make it difficult to replace what you need without replacing what works perfectly. More garbage for landfills, more money for their bottom-lines.

Make sure you look for the "" widget on my left sidebar, and vote for standardization of power adaptors. These companies are consciously and deliberately destroying the planet. They know it, and they don't give a rat's a** about it. They think that we as consumers are too stupid to know the tricks they are up to!

In any case, I immediately went out to the nearest CompUSA (which is only 5 minutes from my place), and asked to look at DSL modems. It turns out, they have only one model of DSL modem in the store. And it is just a modem. It costs $70 and does not come with a routing function. You have to get a separate router to go with it. So, I was looking at a cool $125 or so to replace my current modem.

I decided to live without internet access for the rest of the evening and came back home. My wife was not happy that she could not surf the web that night, but I told her to assume that we had gone back in time by a few years, and did not yet subscribe to DSL service! Actually, since some of my neighbors have unsecured wireless networks, we do have internet access most of the time even now, but it is not as reliable as having your own network. Yes, I know, it is illegal in some states, but it is not as if I am going out of my home and parking in somebody else's driveway to steal their signal. The way I see it, their signals come into my home, and they are actually trespassing on my property! The least I can do to mitigate the harm done by that is to piggyback on their networks in an emergency!!

On Friday morning, I checked out the modem once again, hoping against hope that some kindly fairies would have repaired it during the night. Unfortunately, I had no such luck. In fact, the failure seemed to have become more complete, with no lights coming on on the modem at all! I then called up AT&T. This is where the story gets interesting. I again had to wade through the same maddening menus, but this time, after I explained my problem to the DSL tech support person, he immediately transferred me to what he referred to as "The Retention Department". I found it vaguely amusing that they would be afraid I was going to ditch AT&T and run away, over a modem failure!

But it gets even better. The person at the retention department who came online got the details of the case (the DSL tech support person stayed on the line to introduce me and my problem to the person in the retention department), then started saying how much they value me as a customer. She confirmed that the modem was indeed out of warranty, but was going to look into what can be done about its cost.

Now, I am a pretty loyal customer of AT&T, make no mistake about it. I have had my home phone service through them since they bought over my old local phone service company, SBC. And I added DSL service to it about 2 years back. But, I don't have any other business with AT&T to speak of. I don't have their TV product or wireless services. I don't even have AT&T as my long-distance carrier on my phone line!

On top of all this, when I started my DSL service, I signed up under a promotional deal that saved me $5 off the $20 full price per month. When the promotion ended, I called AT&T up and asked them whether they could continue the promotional pricing. They bent over backwards and gave me the same $15 rate for the next 2 years back. So, my net payment to AT&T on a monthly basis is about $35, give or take a couple of dollars.

You would think that they would consider me a pretty lousy customer! In fact, I certainly don't feel as if I am a great customer who has gone out of his way to provide AT&T with a lot of revenue. But the way a company treats you is a good indication of how desperate they are to please you and retain you as a customer, even if you don't contribute much to their bottom-line. And by that standard, AT&T is beyond desperate. Let me explain why.

The person at the retention department checked some things out on her computer, and told me that because of my loyalty to AT&T, they would expedite a new wireless modem out to me right away at absolutely no charge to me. Even though this was on a Friday, they would pay the extra charge for saturday delivery so that I would have the modem the very next day. This is the same modem they charged me $20 for less than 2 years back! So, I was getting a better deal simply for wanting a new modem than for signing up for the service in the first place!!

But wait, it gets even better. The person also said that loyal customers like me were eligible to get a one-level upgrade of their DSL speed for absolutely no additional charge for a 6-month period. She then said that I was extra special, and therefore, she was going to upgrade me to twice my current DSL speed (from 768kbps to 1.5Mbps) for the same price (not even the price of the actual 768kbps service, remember, but my current promotional rate which is $5 lower than that) for a full year of service! Long live AT&T, I guess!!

Now that I think back to it, I should have pressed my advantage and gotten free local phone service thrown in for a whole year or two too. And perhaps a few hundred shares of AT&T for free too! My brain just wasn't quick enough, so it was a wasted opportunity. But if you are a customer of AT&T, let this serve as advance warning to you. Prepare yourself before you call AT&T, and you may be able to negotiate a lot of goodies out of them just by making some vague unsatisfied noises!

In any case, I got a new modem, saving me at least $70 (that is what AT&T charges to ship it out if you buy the modem from them. If you buy it at a store like Best Buy, they charge you $99 plus taxes). I also got a nice speed boost on my internet service, absolutely free for the next year (saving me another $120 or so). At that time, I can always choose to downgrade back to the el cheapo, slow service if I felt like it.

Since I have had some minor billing troubles in the past with AT&T charging me higher prices than what I was told on the phone and having to go through multiple levels of agents to fix, I asked her to put all this in writing on my account so that others could take care of billing discrepancies without having to jump through hoops. She happily obliged. Then she spelt her name out for me, and told me to mention that to any agent if I ran into any problems trying to straighten out any future billing issues.

The agent then tried to convince me to switch over to AT&T for wireless and cable services. But I told her I was under contract for my wireless service until later in the year. As for cable, I hardly ever watch TV, so I told her no to that too. If she was disappointed, she did not show it. She just inquired whether she had been able to satisfy me fully during my call, and I said yes. That is what I consider a productive phone call!

My wife and I couldn't believe that we would be treated like royalty by a company like AT&T. We have never been late paying a bill, or disputed a legitimate charge or anything like that, so we are not bad customers by any stretch of the imagination. But still, given what we pay to them, you would have thought they would have told us "tough luck, go get a modem and don't bother us with any more phone calls." Instead they gave us $200 worth of freebies (worth about 6 months of my normal payments to them)! You tell me how desperate they are!!

And, by the way, I did some research on this modem online. It turns out that power supply failure is a pretty common problem on this model. Lots of people complain about it. And many of them get charged through their noses for a replacement modem by AT&T too! But some enterprising individuals have figured out that the modem actually works perfectly with a 5V power adaptor that is designed for the play station portable (PSP) game console. Yes, 5V is 0.1V less than what the original power supply for this modem specifies as the output voltage, but apparently the modem is not too picky about that!

What is more, you can get PSP power adaptors off eBay for less than $5! So, I immediately ordered one of them for about $4.50. Now, if and when the new modem that AT&T ships dies for any reason, I will have a fully functioning replacement modem, all set to go. More importantly, it shows you how important doing your research is. If I had not googled for problems with my modem's power supply, I never would have found out that a $5 solution exists for the problem I was having. Even if AT&T asks me to go pound sand, I now know that I can solve the problem without a huge outlay of cash on my part! Long live Google too, I guess!!

As for the proof of the pudding being in the eating, I will keep you posted about whether the modem actually makes it to me today and whether my DSL speed has been upgraded. I will also let you know if any unexpected billing problems rear their ugly heads! In the meantime, I thank my neighbor for allowing me to post this to my blog over his/her network! Don't worry, I will get my own network pretty soon hopefully, and I promise not to get on yours until the next emergency!!

1 comment:

Sam Soong said...

Not an AT&T fan at all. I found a better alternative. For me, prepaid rules.

I did a bit of research and discovered NET10 was the best for my purposes. I don’t use a lot of minutes — maybe 200 or so a month — and I’m not a mad texter or websurfer either, but 10¢ a minute for calls and 3¢ for texts is crazy good. And no fees per day or other bs.

I got a very nice Samsung phone with a slide-out qwerty keyboard and no one knows it’s prepaid. Costs me a big $30 a month for all my stuff.

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