and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
September 2002 #1

Tales from the telecommunications front: Chip Ford vs. AT&T
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 5, 2002

My partner switched. He was already using AT&T cable TV and cable modem, so when the telemarketer called offering "better quality at a lower price" than what he had with Verizon, he figured using one company would be not only cheaper, but simpler.

This is Chip's story from his project journal:

July 2002 - After a lengthy conversation, I agree to switch my two lines over to AT&T. We discuss my needs and preferred options, agree to the price and installation date, and are about to move on to the FCC-required recorded authorization to switch over.

I am put on hold, and after 20 minutes I hang up.

July 25 - I call AT&T customer service to determine if my order and installation date are still valid. Am put on hold for 10 minutes before hanging up.

I call back, demanding to speak to a supervisor and finally am transferred to "Ingrid," who eventually determines that the original telemarketer order was canceled because the recorded authorization had not been completed. I place a new order.

I call back to try to correct a longstanding problem with my address, which is correct for billing, but wrong for service, resulting in servicemen showing up at my neighbor's house. While there, I ask for a review of my order, and learn that somehow the options I'd requested had vanished.

I once again order Statewide Service, the Multi-Service package, and the Distinct Ring option. "Vicki" promises to call back later in the day to confirm that the corrections had taken effect, thereby becoming one of several "customer service" representatives I will never hear from again.

August 20 - I had requested the switch for after my vacation, and at 9:15 a.m the home wiring installation is completed as scheduled. I tell the installer that while I can call out and receive calls on my primary line and number, the Distinct Ring option on that line does not accept incoming calls, nor does my second (fax) line.

He advises that it will "probably take an hour" before the numbers are fully programmed in the AT&T central office.

10:45 a.m. - Nothing has changed, but on my primary line there are persistent intermittent clicks. I am unable to program in Speed Dial numbers nor do I get Caller ID numbers for incoming calls, both part of the Multi-Service package.

I call AT&T and speak with "Rosa," who tells me that neither of these services has been provided, according to her records. She promises they will be effective the following day.

4:10 p.m. - I receive a call from the technician, "Tom," who informs me that all of the problems have been resolved; but my Distinct Ring number is still not ringing or accepting incoming calls. He finds that they have the wrong number listed.

I tell him Verizon is looking better every minute, so he switches me to "Henry," who asks for one more chance and promises to stay on top of the situation and call me first thing in the morning to ensure that the work has been completed.

August 21, 9 a.m. - I try the phone lines, using my cell phone. The primary line is working, no clicks. Distinct Ring line still will not accept incoming calls and the Multi-Service Package is still not available. But instead of the unanswered ring of yesterday, a recorded message has been inserted informing callers that the line "is no longer in service and has been disconnected."

9:40 a.m. - I try calling Henry, am told repeatedly by a recording that AT&T "appreciates my patience." Finally get to leave a message on his voice mail.

10:10 a.m. - I call AT&T and speak with "Dwayne," who puts me on hold for 14 minutes as he determines that Distinct Ring had still not been activated, which I already know. He assures me that it will happen "in five minutes" and he will call back to confirm.

I give him my cell phone number since I still don't have call waiting on my primary line.

Every five minutes from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. I call the Distinct Ring number, and get a new message instead of "the line is disconnected." It says, and this is verbatim: "Have reached 781 has been changed. The new number is not available."

11:32 a.m. - I call AT&T, speak with "Michael." He assures me that he will personally look into all the issues I've raised and promises to call me back. I give him my cell phone number.

2:30 p.m. - "Henry" finally calls and assures me that "Dwayne" is well on his way to correcting my problems.

6:45 p.m. - All service has ceased on my phone; the lines are dead, with no dial tones.

6:55 p.m. - I call "Michael" from my neighbor's phone, and "Henry" on my cell phone, telling their voice mail that if things aren't fixed by tomorrow morning I am switching back to Verizon.

7:10 p.m. - Call from my cell phone and speak with "Monica," who checks my records and informs me that something is wrong in the AT&T box they installed on the outside of my house; they will send someone out tomorrow afternoon to fix it.

I tell her that if the phones aren't working by tomorrow morning I will take their box off my house and leave it on the front steps where they can pick it up at their convenience.

She asks if I want the Verizon switch-back number and thoughtfully gives it to me.

August 22, 8:40 a.m. - Still no phone. I call "Henry's" and "Michael's" voice mail.

9:40 a.m. - I call Verizon. Speak with "Kathy" who informs me that under FCC regulations, since AT&T had installed wiring and transferred my phone numbers, it will require eight days before they can switch me back over. She suggests I call the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy.

10:00 a.m. - I call "Michael Isenberg," telecommunications division director at DT&E, leave message.

10:01 a.m. - AT&T technician "Paul" appears and replaces the outside box, says he doesn't understand why I'd been put off so long since they have repairmen available until 10 p.m.

10:25 a.m. - All lines working. Caller ID, Distinct Ring, Speed Dialing working. Way to go, Paul!

August 27, 10:15 a.m. - A Verizon telemarketer calls to see if I want to switch my phone service. I tell him no.

Note from Barbara: All recorded "we appreciate your patience" messages to the contrary, Chip was not patient. I and the other Citizens for Limited Taxation staffers use Verizon, so I watched this entire process with great amusement since, fortunately, we were not in the middle of a campaign at the time.

But then we heard from Loretta, our executive assistant, who handles the call forwarding features we need to keep in touch from our four home offices.

This is Loretta's story, told in semi-hysterical tones:

August 27. 10:30 a.m. - "Verizon sells you this Ultra-Call Forwarding feature so you can access it from remote locations, then subcontracts with Joe Schmoe's Remote Call Forwarding which can't handle the volume; so when I can't get on call forwarding Verizon tells me "Repair will get back to you," which it does at the end of the day when the volume has subsided and says, though the problem has nothing to do with Repair, that everything is fixed, and the consumer is bleeped again!"

Can I just climb up on Ma Bell's lap and cry?

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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