Southern Fubar

Dear AT&T

Today, Wednesday September 14, is the fourth day I have been without a telephone service of any description. It appears that the service began to fail intermittently from about Friday 9th until the morning of Monday 12th, when it became permanently inoperable.

Have any of your organization’s administrators attempted to navigate the AT&T website to lodge a repair request for a land-line telephone service? I suspect not. Neatly laid out it may be, but the typeface chosen for the introductory page is an obscure one and on my computer – a Macintosh running the latest-but-one operating system – is rendered so small and so pixelated as to be unreadable without risking permanent eye damage by peering at the screen from a distance of about half an inch.

When I did decipher the instructions, I was directed to a video that showed me how to troubleshoot the problem. I did so, even though I risked using up the laughably small download allowance that my overpriced, technologically backward and pork-barrel addicted ISP begrudgingly grants me. Nevertheless I persevered, ascertaining that the problem was, as I suspected, with your organization’s infrastructure. Back to the website.

I followed the instructions to the pixel and found myself having to register my details in order to get a “job ticket”. To do this, I was told, I needed to be issued with a secret code number, which I could obtain by a simple telephone call to my friends at AT&T or by emailing them, in which case I would in two days or thereabouts receive the required information via the US Postal Service. Though I am sympathetic to the financial plight of USPS and use their excellent services by choice, I would have much preferred to call the problem in, but of course I couldn’t. Do you see my problem here? My phone isn’t working.

No, I couldn’t use my cell phone. You see, though I live not 20 minutes by road from the State capital, about the same distance from the adjoining County Seat and on a bad traffic day about 45 minutes from our second-largest city, the Horse Capital of the World, I do not have cell-phone coverage. Neither do I have access to cable or truly high-speed Internet, having instead to rely on overpriced satellite services, one of which provides me with an Internet service I might find acceptable if it were still 1995. I realize that you are not aware of this personal and, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant tragedy; if you were you’d stop sending me letters printed on faux art paper telling me how much you value me as a customer and offering me TV services with the same lousy satellite provider I have now, and even bigger, brighter and speedier smartphones linked to plans you say are just the best in the nation. While I’m on that subject, could you get whoever is responsible for your mail-outs to remove me from that particular list? You see at times like this, instead of being grateful for your wish to provide me with the best of all possible worlds, I am only able to see the bitter irony in the situation. But back to my immediate problem.

Next followed a brief keyboard exchange with one of your website’s “technical consultants”. He was very helpful. First he gave me the telephone number I needed to call to resolve my problem. I suggested he read my question. He did, and professed his empathy with my problem and sorrow at the inconvenience to which I was being subjected. Then he told me he was an Internet specialist and couldn’t really help me, but if I would just go to the website, I would be able to register a complaint. I was loth to do so – I confess to being just a little prickly by that time – but ignored my baser instincts and opened the “complaints” portal, where I typed in a polite, though terse, outline of my problem. What was I thinking? A little message popped up telling me that the software acting as a proxy for AT&T’s complaints department couldn’t respond to any requests but would use my comments to continually improve the website.

Now I am not one to complain. I am a man of mature years who knows that though the world is a perfect place, the humans in it are less so. However, I do have a couple of medical issues that have not yet been resolved and was expecting a phone call from a specialist to give me the results of the latest round of tests. Of course that worthy will not have been able to reach me and, given the punishing schedule that in-demand persons seem to have these days, may not bother to keep trying.

My problem is not thought to be life-threatening, but sometimes the pain is bad enough to bring me to a standstill and perhaps one day I will need to call emergency services. Who knows? I suppose I could email – or even write a letter – to summon help, but it is, after all, 2011 in this, supposedly the wealthiest, most powerful nation our planet has ever known and I’d like to think that there were other alternatives.

I did manage to get help at last. My partner called AT&T from her workplace on Tuesday morning. She did not call sooner because even as late as noon on Monday I was optimistic that I may yet be able to resolve the problem without her needing to resort to using her employers’ time and telephone to rectify a problem that is not theirs. However, as I pointed out at the beginning of this letter, I still have no phone service.

I may be wasting my time writing – may even have acted hastily in beginning this letter – because I didn’t bother to check your website to see if you have an address that is serviced by USPS, the organization you suggested I use to facilitate the issue of a code number. Still, I was ever the optimist.

Yours in wistful hope,

Frank Povah

Frank Povah

Frank Povah

Arriving in the USA in late 2008, Frank Povah moved to Stamping Ground, Kentucky in mid 2009. Passionate about the written and spoken word and constantly bewildered by non-verbs and neo-nouns, Frank trained as a typesetter - though he has worked at many things - and later branched out into proofreading, writing and editing. For many years he has been copy editor, consultant and columnist with a prestigious Australian quarterly along with running his own editorial and typesetting business. His other interests are many and include traditional music, especially that of the south, folklore, natural history, and pigeons.

  1. Jack deJarnette

    Righy on, Dear Frank.
    Been there, done that. Man, I hurt for you and would say a prayer, but I’m not sure God can even get throught to AT&T. Do you not have an alternative? Yes, I read your open letter all the way through and don’t know of one, but surely…? Thank God for youe partner!

  2. Frank Povah

    Thanks, Jack. It would be funny if it wasn’t so infuriatin’.

  3. AT&T’s customer service division = Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell.

    Having felt your pain previously, you have my condolences.

    1. Frank Povah

      It isn’t just the USA but…

      I hate to say this, but in Australia when you get this sort of treatment the best recourse is to go over the company’s head and contact your State or Federal member of parliament or both. If it’s really bad, then you contact the Federal Minister of whatever government department would have responsibility for policing/regulating that area (in a case like this it would be Telecommunications).

      A Minister is an elected member of parliament who is given a “portfolio” by the Prime Minister or a Premier (State equivalent) and so is responsible for that area, e.g. Defence, Environment, Consumer Affairs and so on – sort of like your Secretaries. If a Minister’s office or even an MP’s gets a letter – or better still a phone call – from a lucid voter with what they consider a genuine grievance they will investigate straight away. A phone call from a Minister’s office will jolt any company – including the biggest – into action, especially one that is unpopular, phone coys for instance.

      I’ve had three disputes with phone coys in my time, all so bad they warranted THE CALL. Two were over misleading promises they’d made re connections in towns I was relocating to. In both cases – after days of haggling and stalling – the problems were solved (and lines installed) within hours of a call to the minister. Both also resulted in the waiver of all fees usually levied for new multi-line connections – one of them involving more than $1500.

      The third was a case of one phone coy churning my number I had with another company and using it to make money from a third party by charging my long distance calls to it – does that happen here?

      This contact business is possible because all elected officials – federal state and local – make regular mail-outs to constituents. Whenever you change address you usually receive a “welcome” letter (as if they REALLY cared) from all three. You have to register your change of address with the Electoral Commission when you move, which is how the pollies get your address. In that respect, compulsory voting ain’t all bad.

  4. Billy Howard

    I’m confused, it sounds like you’re receiving the service everyone else gets, so why all the complaining? And your comment about elected officials responding to your issues is quite funny. On this side of the planet they are actually representatives of the phone company, which, after all, is a person just like you and me, with their own needs and complaints.

  5. You have my sympathy, for what it may be worth to you, Frank. I worked hard to find a way to get ATT out of my pocket. I live within pebble hurling distance of Cox Enterprises HQ, yet I cannot purchase any service from them save a subscription to their local newspaper. Not that I would expect their service to be any better than ATT. Comcast was, for many years, my only other option, and I had troubles with them precluding them getting any of my money. I was saved by Clear, a 4G wireless sevice that gives reasonable speed for a casual web user. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for nearly 15 years and I fear the government permitting ATT to consume them. You may want to check to see if your mobile provider, Clear, or another 4G vendor offers service in your area. You can set up VOIP phone service that is nearly indistinguishable from traditional landline service through these vendors. They are no panacea, but they have been more reliable and easier to reach than ATT or Comcast in my experience a few miles north of Atlanta.

    1. Frank Povah

      Mark – I have no cell phone coverage: “No, I couldn’t use my cell phone. You see, though I live not 20 minutes by road from the State capital, about the same distance from the adjoining County Seat and on a bad traffic day about 45 minutes from our second-largest city, the Horse Capital of the World, I do not have cell-phone coverage. Neither do I have access to cable or truly high-speed Internet”

      But thanks for your sympathy – at least it’s genuine – unlike AT&T’s.

  6. Frank Povah

    Sorry Billy, my misguided socialist thinking again. I forgot about the benefits of living in a democracy where a faceless corporation with teams of high-priced lawyers and a bottomless pit of money at its disposal has exactly the same rights as you, me and those whinin’ bastards down the road apiece who don’t appreciate how lucky they are. I also forget that the populi whose vox the teevee people are always quoting has, under said democracy, just as much power and influence as the mightiest corporation.

    Again, my contrite apologies.

  7. We don’t call it the Death Star for nothin’.

  8. I see in your bio you have an interest in pigeons. Sounds to me like training carrier pigeons could be a useful way to spend your time.

    1. Frank Povah

      Hiya Darby – there’s one snag with that: To operate a pigeon post you need pigeons at either end of the route in loft A and loft B, each group trained to home to its own loft. To start, you swap the necessary amount of birds needed to carry the week’s message load from each loft, then they fly back with their messages. This is done on a continuing rotational basis. Reuters did it in the 19th century, the Persians and Egyptians worked it out more than 3000 years ago and all armies used them in both World Wars (China still maintains them as a back up against electronic communications failure). It’s pretty simple really.

      However I fear that a company that isn’t bright enough to work out that you can’t phone in when your phone is not working and can’t contact them by email if you have dialup or no cell phone service or the power is out probably doesn’t know that live animals need food and water to survive and so the scheme would pretty quickly fail – in fact I wouldn’t trust the dozey bloody eejits with a pet rat, let alone any pigeon of mine if it comes to that.

  9. True story: phone rang a few mornings ago…”Good morning, this is a courtesy call from AT&T. We wanted to be sure your Internet service is working fine.” “Yes, everything is working, fine, thank you.” “Good. If in the future you find you cannot get on the Internet, you can find us online at” (This was a real person, not a recording. I just thanked her again and hung up.)

  10. Frank Povah

    Thank you for that, Phyllis. What a wonderful age we live in when such things are almost free for the asking. Remember, too, that if you have wireless coverage you can use your smartphone at whatI’m sure are very reasonable data transfer rates to see if any future interruption of internet services is their fault or yours.

    Yesterday (Friday) I received yet another letter offering me a bright new smartphone bundled with my landline service (and I use the term advisedly). They have switched from faux art paper to faux laid bond – excuse the printer’s talk, but I feel a desperate need to be in command of some aspect of my life – and from US letter to notepaper size.

    The literary style has also improved somewhat, giving the impression that “Kelly” at AT&T had just stopped dead in her tracks on her way to the Imitazione del Roma coffee maker and thought “Golly gosh. Poor Frank. We haven’t written to him for a while. I think I’ll just dash off a quick note to remind him of the wondrous things we have on offer.”

    If I didn’t have friends who are people, or hadn’t spent my formative years in an era before there were such things as computers and mail merges, it would have been almost convincing. The digitized handwriting and trick-me postage stamp was also a nice touch.

  11. Okay, it’s October 3rd and I have to know: did you get your service reinstated? And since it’s none of my business, I will project confidence that the phone call finally delivered good news. — Take care!

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