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Friday, April 2, 2010

My Internet Access Saga Continues . . .

I just got off the phone with AT&T a little while ago. No, I did not lose my internet connection again. But I had other problems with an arm of AT&T that seems to work independent of the other parts of AT&T.

I wrote earlier about how my internet gateway died and what AT&T promised me for being a loyal customer. I told you then how I have had billing problems in the past with AT&T. Well, the arm of AT&T that seems to wave around independent of other parts of AT&T, and does not seem to be controlled by AT&T's central brain at all, is its billing arm!

Well, I got my AT&T bill for March yesterday, and lo and behold, in spite of all the promises and assurances I got in the middle of the month, I had been charged $110 for the new modem they shipped me. $87 of this was for the modem itself, $13 was for the shipping and handling, and $10 was for sales tax. Unfortunately, I saw the bill after the billing department of AT&T had already closed for the day, so I had to wait till today to call.

As usual, there was the rigmarole of trying to convince the automated system to transfer me to a live agent. After I finally accomplished that, I was put on hold with periodic messages saying all agents were busy (I can well imagine!). I finally got connected to an agent after 30 minutes on hold. I explained the problem to her, and she started taking a look into my account.

It was a good thing I convinced the person who arranged for my modem to be shipped out to put detailed notes in my account regarding the free nature of the replacement. The agent I spoke with today located the notes and told me there must have been a mix-up somewhere. But she would take care of the problem and I don't have to worry about it. After that, she had to go into two separate billing systems to get me a refund for all the money they charged me (that they were not supposed to charge me). One system would only allow her to refund me the money for the modem and the shipping and handling charge. That system would not allow her to refund me the sales tax on the transaction. She then had to get into a different system to get me a refund for the sales tax.

And both systems, by her own admission, were atrociously slow. We were talking about the weather and other things for a good 5 minutes while she waited for the systems to come up and allow her to process my refunds. But at least, the process seems to have worked. She said she had successfully put in the credit requests and I should see a credit within the next couple of billing cycles. She also put the dollar amounts on dispute so that I need not pay them in the meantime.

What was also good was that the agent was an English-speaking American somewhere in the US. I did not ask her exactly where she worked out of, but she knew about the good weather we have been having the past couple of weeks in the midwest, so it is a good guess that she is probably working out of some office in the midwest. At least I did not have to try and pursue this with some outsourced customer service agent who pretends to speak English, but instead speaks a combination of Esperanto, Arabic and pig-latin!

Now, I had also mentioned that AT&T was supposed to increase my internet speed without charging me extra for it. Well, guess what, it has been 2 weeks since that conversation took place, but I have not seen any increase in my internet connection speed whatsoever. So, I asked the customer service agent to look into that after she had taken care of my billing problem. I know there is a big risk here because I am pretty sure AT&T will probably charge me higher for the higher speed even though it is part of a promotion promising the same rate as I have now. But I decided the risk was something I could live with. It turns out the notes to switch me to a higher internet speed were in my account too, but the actual switch had never taken place. This agent promised me that it would now take place within the next couple of business days. I will believe it when it happens!

The constant billing problems I have had with AT&T can be explained with two theories. The first is that AT&T employees are incredibly mistake-prone and constantly make billing mistakes as part of their daily job. They say no charge on the phone while at the same time sending a charge to the billing system. They say free on the phone and then have selective amnesia about the conversation when dealing with the billing system. It is possible, but probably not plausible.

The other theory is that AT&T's systems are set up to ignore these free and no-charge requests put in by their own agents. That way, they always bill you what they think they should bill you in the normal course of events, and they will refund you the money if you take the initiative to call and complain to them. If you don't scrutinize your bill, or you don't call, or you don't want to wait on hold for a long time to get the charges reversed, guess what, AT&T gets to keep your money! I guess they earn enough money with these "billing mistakes" that it makes it worth it for them to field a few thousand calls each month from customers like me who actually call to get these billing mistakes reversed.

Now, this is the same company that is trying to convince me to switch my cellular phone service to them, so that I can demonstrate that I am even more loyal to them. With billing problems like these, where is my incentive to switch to AT&T? At best, they have air-headed agents who make mistakes all the time. At worst, the company is dishonest, and tries to earn money by cheating their customers and hoping they don't get caught! I would rather have a company that gives me confidence that their billing is accurate and honest even if they never give me anything for free, than a company that pretends to give me a lot of stuff for free and then tries to sneak the charges for this stuff (and more) on me when I am not watching! Will I switch to AT&T for my wireless services? What do you think?!!

So, my call to AT&T billing for this month is done. I am pretty sure I have to hound them for the next few months as they will either "forget" to process the refund put through by the agent today, or the billing system will decide to reinstate the charge all by itself, or they will try to charge me extra for the higher internet speed I was promised (and this may happen even if my internet speed is not even changed even though this agent promised me a change by Tuesday of next week!), or some extra charge will show up on my bill for something I have never heard of. I have to set aside about an hour of my time around the first of each month to resolve billing problems that should never have happened in the first place. In my experience, billing problems with AT&T are never resolved with one phone call . . . There is a first time for everything, but I am not getting my hopes too high!

Now, the other interesting development in the internet saga is my dealings with 2Wire. As I mentioned in this post, 2Wire promised to send me a replacement power supply based on their diagnosis of my symptoms. I waited a week for the power supply to show up, but it did not. So, I sent them an email asking what the status of the request was. I got a reply a day later saying a power supply was being dispatched by Fedex 2nd day air, and I should receive it by the 31st of March. This email came to me on the 29th at 15:55. The tracking number they provided me shows that the shipment was initiated at 15:54 on the 29th! So, they suddenly "remembered" about my power supply only after my reminder email, and initiated the shipment just before sending me the tracking number!!

The modem was actually picked up by Fedex only on the 30th, so I finally got it on the 1st of April. And it works! I tested out the power supply on my spare modem, and everything seems to be fine. So, now I have an emergency fallback modem complete with power supply in case something happens to the one I am using currently.

The lesson from this is: 2Wire will replace broken power supplies on their modems without any charge, but you have to hound them for it. You have to send them reminder emails and other correspondence to keep them on their toes, or they will "forget" to send you the stuff they promised you. But if you stay on the case, you will get a replacement for your broken stuff, so don't give up on 2Wire just yet!

Which reminds me that I still have a PSP power supply sitting around doing nothing. The offer to ship it out to anyone who wants it just for taking on my shipping costs still stands, so get it while it is still available!

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