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Aug 11

Can AT&T really be this broken?

Can a company like AT&T really fail in this many ways for one customer on one product?

When I first moved to Frisco in 2011, I decided to get Internet and Cable TV services, along with home phone service from (then) Time Warner Cable. It served me well until the Charter/Spectrum acquisition, when my rates jumped more than 20%, and calls to “customer care” showed they cared less.

AT&T Store SignAt the same time, I have been a customer with AT&T since 2009, after a disappointing 5 year stint on Sprint for my cell phones. When I signed with AT&T, I was able to get an unlimited data plan, which I was able to keep when they moved to metered plans.

So let’s fire up the way-back machine (yes, I’m referring to the time machine in “Mr. Peabody and Sherman”), and I’ll give you some history of my saga.

I was happy with AT&T when it came to service, but I wasn’t happy with their devices. After my iPhone 3 reached the end of its usable life (and I had some complaints with the Apple devices when it came to using them with Windows PC’s and the software), I bought a Samsung Galaxy S2 from AT&T. Due to the force-fed, poorly written bloatware by Samsung and AT&T that couldn’t be disabled or removed, I was lucky to get 8-12 hours out of the phone before recharging (even with light use). After that, I knew I had to do something different.

Enter Google. Google partnered with phone manufacturers to produce Google-branded devices at the low to middle of the road price range, and I already had a “Nexus 7” tablet that I was very happy with. Google announced that they were launching, in partnership with Samsung and other manufacturers, a series of high-end phones that were running a clean version of Android, without carrier or manufacturer customized interface or applications. I liked the idea, and bought a Samsung Galaxy S4 “Google Play Edition” that served me well for 3 years. Once I received the device, it was a simple trip to the AT&T store to get the phone activated.

Google Nexus 5xAs the Galaxy S4 was reaching the end of its life, I decided to stay with Google, and purchased a Nexus 5x in 2015. That phone continues to serve me to this day.

Which brings us to the point where things started going off the rails a few weeks ago.

With my being tired of Spectrum’s higher prices, and wanting me to switch to a slower Internet (the speed at which I subscribed was no longer offered, with the fastest offered speed being half of what I was getting), I decided it was time to make a switch. The first thing to go was the home phone, as very few people called me on it for legitimate purposes, and for the last several years I was getting 6-8 calls a day that were telemarketers, scammers, or collection agencies looking for someone else.

Since my only other choice for Internet providers was AT&T. I chose their premium “Internet 1000” as I live in an apartment complex where the fiber optic service was available.

I then evaluated several streaming television services, and due to channel availability chose AT&T’s own DirecTV Now. It lacked some features that some of the other providers had, but they were also later to the game and were now catching up with the others.

Finally, I decided that my unlimited plan from 8 years ago should probably be upgraded, since it didn’t include texting, and to add texting would up the price to the same as what the current unlimited plans are. AT&T also had the best coverage in areas where I sometimes go to visit friends and family.

So in the end, it worked out that AT&T was the best choice for each of them. I finally went to my neighborhood AT&T store, and the kind sales representative walked through all the orders changes and updates. The first surprise was that my employer affiliation discount no longer applied to the wireless service (specifically the new ‘unlimited’ plans). This resulted in some of my expected savings going out the window. I thought, no big deal, I’m still saving money, just not as much.

AT&T Internet, 940.05 Mb/s Download, 1002.72 Mb/s Upload.

Yes, it really is that fast!

The technician arrived a few days later, and in a matter of a few hours, I was getting the advertised internet speeds. Likewise the DirecTV Now, by way of Roku devices on my TV’s, was delivering quality that would meet or exceed my expectations.

I quickly pulled out all the Spectrum equipment and dropped them off at a nearby office, and requested the service be terminated.

I had officially cut the cord on Cable TV and home phone, joining the growing ranks of others that are doing so as well.

A couple of days later, I was sitting at home, my cellphone (which typically was reliable even indoors in my apartment) couldn’t make a call. I had a strong signal according to the phone, but the call would not go through. I moved to another room, even out on the balcony, and was not able to get a call through. I finally resorted to standing on the stairwell on the opposite side of the building, where I had a clear line of sight a mile and a half away to an AT&T office with its adjoining “tower”, and was able to get a call through. But if I moved back indoors, the call would drop, yet the phone still said the signal was strong.

Thinking this was a fluke, I tried again the next day, with the same results. It continued for a week. I used AT&T’s “Mark the Spot” app to track and report the failures. During a walk around the neighborhood I noticed that even trying to pull up a weather radar app was painfully slow. Text messages from AT&T and others experienced delays of several minutes.

AT&T MicroCell

Example of an AT&T MicroCell

So it was clear that the problem was not being indoors, but with AT&T’s network.

I started doing research, and started contemplating a “MicroCell”, a small device that like your home WiFi router connects to the Internet, but instead of WiFi, it sends out signals that the Cell Phones can use to make and receive calls and text messages over the Internet. Great idea, until you look at a $250 price tag.

But hold on, many people comment that the ability to do this already existed in the phone. If the phone connects via WiFi to a fast enough Internet connection, the phone can switch over and complete both calls and text messages over the internet via WiFi. Further research said my Nexus 5x was capable of doing this, and that I just had to “turn it on”. I thought that would be my fix, and is clearly cheaper than buying the expensive MicroCell.

My joy turned to disappointment when the feature was not showing in the menus as described, and further research found that of the 4 major carriers, AT&T does not support my device (or any device not specifically bought directly from AT&T) on this “enhanced” service. Further research showed there was other “enhancements” that my device could not get because of this policy by AT&T. So much for paying for “premium” service, if the “premium” features I’m paying for are not working.

So I went back to my neighborhood AT&T store, and spoke with another one of the friendly sales representatives. She thought my phone might have been part of the problem (it clearly was not, as it worked fine anywhere else I went) but suggested I replace the SIM card (the card that associates the phone to AT&T and my account). We proceeded in making the change, but test calls from home a short time later proved there was no improvement.

The next night, almost a week into this issue, I decided to call AT&T’s “Customer Care”. The representative that I spoke with was knowledgeable and was able to agree that the problem was not on my end, but that three of the five “towers” that cover my neighborhood are now marked as either “out of service” or “degraded”. Further checking brought up that all three are not expected to return back to normal for over another week!

Understanding my frustration, he proceeded to transfer me over to “Customer Loyalty”, where, because of his notes not showing in the system yet (or his lack of entering notes) I had to explain to this new representative all the issues I have experienced, which she then looked up and verified. The only solution she could offer me was a one-time bill credit of $25. A token amount considering the unknown of not being able to have a usable phone at home for at least two weeks, or investing $250 in fixing a problem that is not my own.

The one thing I will say, of all the people I’ve interacted with from AT&T, all of them were professional, but most clearly showed that corporate policies restricted them from taking steps to truly resolve the problems. Likewise, all of them, both at the store and at the contact center seemed to suffer from system problems, resulting in long delays in looking information up, making changes and other edits, again no fault of their own but of the corporate support side.

THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY, and will post updates if new information comes to light.

About the author

Michael Jones

Michael Jones is the founder of On The Spot Communications and On The Spot Blog.

A native of Ottawa, Kansas (approximately 60 miles South-West of Kansas City), he was born in the early 70's and lived most of his early life without traveling far from home.

He has since lived in Lenexa, Kansas (suburb of Kansas City), Houston, Texas, and now resides in Frisco, Texas (north of Dallas, Texas). He has had the experience of traveling to Tokyo, Japan and Tel Aviv, Israel, as well as numerous places around the USA.

A self-professed computer geek, when Michael's not working in his telecommunications job, he enjoys Model Railroading and Paintball.

Michael Jones is the founder of On The Spot Communications and On The Spot Blog.
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