Can AT&T Stay in Business? Communication Giant Can't Even Communicate Within Its Own Company

Recently, I bought a wide-screen TV and shopped for HD service. I've been with Time/Warner, wasn't thrilled and was intrigued by AT&T's Uverse. I already had AT&T's DSL and like the deals it makes to retain my business. I was also attracted by Uverse's lower price, which, combined with $150 credit, dramatically reduced the cost to less than half Time/Warner's offer for essentially the same service.


I won't bore you with my channel selections, because it's irrelevant to the nightmare that followed. Suffice it to say, after chatting with the amiable Julio of the Uverse Florida office with whom I made it clear I didn't want combined Uverse Internet service, he confirmed the price for TV connection and made an appointment for the set-up.

When the serviceman came Luis said, "So you're getting Internet?" to which I replied, "No, just TV." He then connected my TV and noticed my DSL connection was lost. After going to the garage to check on wiring, DSL was restored and Uverse looked great on my new TV.

The next day, I had problems with the Uverse receiver. It didn't respond to my remote or power up when I pressed the on/off button. Tech Support suggested that I unplug it and plug it in again, and it worked, but what a solution! To my other grievance, that it took several minutes to get a picture, he replied, "Yeah, a lot of people complain about that. But it takes that long to boot up."

A technician was scheduled, and then I was on the Internet until 8 p.m., afterward watching TV until 2 a.m. Before going to bed, I was shocked to see I couldn't get onto the Internet. Tech Support revealed DSL had been disconnected, because AT&T won't allow DSL service when you get Uverse TV, insisting you purchase its more expensive Uverse Internet brand.

However, Julio, the affable Florida Uverse salesman had said nothing about that, and Luis the technician who set Uverse up connected cables in my garage so I could get both. Uverse Tech Support at 2 a.m. explained it was not technologically feasible to get each, even though I insisted they were functioning together successfully for a day and a half. Regardless, AT&T's computer would apparently have none of it and disconnected me.

There was nothing Tech support could do so late, as it required AT&T's sales office involvement So, after a sleepless night, I called sales at 8 a.m. and began another set of nightmares, which, considering the company's specialization, was unfathomable.

A sympathetic Sharon said all she could do was cancel Uverse, and it would take two days to clear the system before the computer allowed her to restore DSL. This seemed crazy. Couldn't she call someone at the appropriate desk? Someone must be able to type in computer code in the same manner it was shut off. She agreed it was AT&T's fault, but could only credit my account to salve the company's guilt.

I spoke to her supervisor Steffi, also sympathetic, who expedited the request to reconnect on Tuesday -- five days away! If it hadn't been "expedited" it would have taken over a week. She, too, didn't have a contact in the company to urgently fulfill the action. So, I asked to speak with her supervisor.

I missed the supervisor's call, but Kari Stokes left a message saying she'd do what she could. I called back and left a message, then called Uverse to make sure the technician scheduled to replace my HD Receiver didn't come. Jeremy said, "I can see the service is canceled." I was shocked. "You already know?" I asked. "They said it would take two days to reach you." Not only did he know, but the instant Sharon canceled Uverse the system also called off the technician.

I told Steffi and asked: If Uverse already knew service was canceled why couldn't she start the process to reinstate DSL? She said the computers didn't communicate, though it was clear her computers communicated with Uverse. Unfortunately, AT&T's Uverse was not able to quickly return the favor to AT&T's sales office computers.

The next day, I got a message from Monica, who apologized again for what happened -- AT&T is very good about apologizing -- but that field work was necessary and my reinstatement would still be on Tuesday. I called supervisor Kari again and left a stern message reiterating the nonsense of the delay and wondering why she'd not returned my call.

I called the sales office again, trying to get Sharon and spoke to Angela, and while she was listening to my tale of woe I suddenly heard a click. "Oh, no," I thought. She disconnected me. But it wasn't Angela who did so. My land line was now dead!

Fortunately, I have a cell phone and called Kari again -- and left another message, angrier still -- and then called sales, getting Donna. Donna was very concerned and sent Sharon a note to call me, and also called AT&T repair, waiting to ensure I wasn't in a long queue. We spoke with Diana, who assured me my account was okay, but agreed there was a problem. She took down the information and within an hour my telephone was reconnected.

Silly me, who thought maybe the disconnection was due to Kari Stokes' efforts and perhaps my line was dead because of the necessity to restore DSL. No such luck. Yet I can't believe it was a coincidence.

Saturday morning, Steffi called to say Kari expedited the matter, even though I still didn't have DSL and everything indicated I wouldn't get it until the originally scheduled Tuesday time. So, what had Kari accomplished on her own?

Steffi was undaunted, calling the "Provisioning" department, but alas it was closed Saturday. She managed to get Tier 2 level of Tech Support, and the guy said they not only had to get Provisioning's assent, but also someone from the Line Department. No one was able to tell me who exactly would turn DSL back on. It was all a series of bureaucratic permission slips to do so, even though everyone I talked to agreed it was AT&T's fault but that there was nothing any of them could do about it.

This all seems nonsensical to someone who in former times worked at banks, hospitals and even a stint at the U.S. Senate, where in each venue when I wanted to get something immediately done I was able to find the proper person who made it happen. No one with whom I dealt at AT&T seemed to know how to do this. It was as if everyone was dependent upon Hal, the famous computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Thank God, Time/Warner, whose TV service I disconnected hadn't done anything even two days after I'd called, and I was able to cancel the disconnection.

On Monday, Kari finally called me back and we began a couple of friendly conversations in which she told me how everyone had been trying to expedite my DSL service. Her last call informed me that, in spite of everything, Tuesday would still be the day and it would be in the early morning. I gave her my building manager's number in case I wasn't home, and then early Tuesday morning Steffi called to say re-installation wouldn't happen until the end of the day.

While I was at the gym, my building manager Tim called to say he'd seen an AT&T truck outside around noon, and when he went to investigate spoke to workmen in my house, who said the phone guy had arrived and they told him I wasn't there, so he left. He didn't leave a card or call Tim, as Kari promised me would be the case.

When I got home there was a recording from AT&T instructing me to set up DSL service on my modem, but when I called Tech Support the recording said I was still on Uverse. I called Steffi to fill her in, and she called back to say my service had not been restored and that the scheduling office confirmed this with another technician who would be out later.

When German Vazquez came by close to 6 p.m. he told me the earlier guy had already connected my DSL to the outside box, but that it wasn't working because the modem had to be reset. This was the best service I ultimately received, as German went above and beyond his job specs to talk to Tech Support, and finally at 7 p.m. my DSL, gone for almost a week, was back in business.

However, what does this say about AT&T, its service and its inability or unwillingness to communicate with its own departments to undo grievous screw-ups? Why doesn't it have a central department where supervisors like Kari or Steffi can go to quickly cut through red tape when a mistake on AT&T's part has been committed? How can AT&T's leadership condone inefficient and ultimately uncaring processes within the same company that cause its customers such tumult? And, from a stockholders' perspective, how does AT&T remain profitable driving away a paying customer to go back to Time/Warner because of its stubborn insistence that you cannot have DSL Internet service with Uverse TV. For heaven's sake, they're both part of the same organization and, as was proven in my case, DSL worked just fine side by side with Uverse.

If a company is so inept and/or arrogant, it shouldn't get our business. A major investigation by the FCC ought to be instigated, as well as reports by newspapers, magazines and the major networks, such as CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS. Anderson Cooper, this is right up your alley.

I'm looking around for other services and thank my lucky stars I had a cell phone when AT&T cut off my land line in the midst of my havoc. Thank God my cell phone isn't with AT&T!

Michael Russnow's website is