I've long been an AT&T customer for my home phone service? Why? Why not? Who knows, that's just the way it's been.
I'm also a lazy slug. I like to pay my bills on-line, but I don't like to open those pesky little envelopes they send me every month. One could suggest that I authorize companies to take the money directly out of my account, but I think that is very dangerous. Instead I use one of two methods.
If the merchant will accept a credit card, then I let them charge me every month. I like the protection that Visa, Mastercard, and the laws of the great state of California give me. If they don't like plastic, then I set up my bank to do an outbound auto-pay each month. I guess at what I will probably owe them and I have my bank send out a check (or a beam of electrons) to the business each month. Every so often I look at a bill and either skip a payment if I'm ahead, or send a double payment if I'm behind. Works out pretty well.
AT&T won't take plastic, so I have them on plan B. Every month the bank sends them a check for $50.
AT&T and I have been on auto pilot for a long time. Then one day early this summer I get a red colored envelope from them. Inside it says I owe them another $35 and they'll cut off my service if I don't pay! Wow. Well I go on-line immediately and send them another $50. Case closed.
Maybe two weeks later I get yet another notice that I owe AT&T and this time they really want their money. What went wrong? I don't know, but I call the number and they take a credit card. Whew. All caught up now.
A few months go by and another red envelope appears. Again, I owe AT&T $35. If I don't pay... I quickly call the number and give them my credit card account. All is happy. I don't know why this is happening, but what the hell, I've got other things on my mind. I go on-line and boost the automatic monthly payment to $75.
Time goes by, as it will do, and I get yet another red envelope from AT&T. You guessed it, I owe them $35. How can this be? I again call and pay with plastic, but this is getting ridiculous. I ask the woman, "why am I paying so much each month?"
"We don't have any payments from you."
I'm talking to the AT&T rep on the phone while my browser is at Addison Avenue Credit Union.
"I can tell you right now that you got a payment from me for $75 just a week ago."
"No sir. I don't have that in my system."
"Well, maybe I have the address wrong. The payment is being sent to ...."
"Oh, I see sir. That's the *other* AT&T."
You see, SBC bought AT&T local service and kept the name AT&T. So my account was split between AT&T and AT&T. AT&T has my local service while AT&T has my long distance service. They were so smart that both companies use the same account number for me! Isn't that great? My checks for AT&T local and long distance service have been going to the address for AT&T long distance service. Thus AT&T has not received any payment from me for months, while AT&T has been generously overpaid.
"The bills look very different sir. We're the new AT&T. We used to be SBC. AT&T now handles your local service. AT&T handles your long distance."
I tell the nice woman at AT&T that I want to fix this. I know I can switch long distance providers and that's just what I want to do. She tells me, "We can handle your long distance if you would like."
"So I can switch from AT&T to AT&T for my long distance?"
Well I have a credit of $359 in my AT&T account and I want that applied to my AT&T account. She can't help me with that, but she transfers my call to AT&T.
The AT&T line involves a wait and a nice man with an Indian accent offers to help me. He is efficient and professional. Unfortunately he cannot send my balance from AT&T to AT&T. Instead, he closes my AT&T account and issues me a refund check. He assures me that this will not close my AT&T account. Good enough.
What kind of idiots do we have running these companies? Obviously the worst kind.
I happily pay taxes, and I expect to get some service for my money. One service that the government should provide is to keep this kind of crapola from happening. I don't care who gets the brand, or what they do with it. There should be only one company with the name AT&T delivering telephone services. If this is what our FCC chairman thinks is good regulation, it's no wonder the new congress is going to skewer him. He seems incompetent to me and has to go - so should his staff that approved this stupidity.
December 2006 Update
Ah, today I received two letters from one of the AT&Ts. I'll have to open them to figure it out.
The first is from AT&T and contains a refund check for $359. That is great. I'm happy to see them payout so quickly.
The second is also a letter from AT&T telling me that they have searched their accounting systems and cannot find the source of a mysterious $359 credit balance in my account. I kid you not. The letter says that they will put the $359 on hold. If I believe that the money is really mine, then I will have to send them cancelled checks to prove it.
Bullshit. I take the refund check down to my bank that night and put the whole grisly business to bed.
January 2007 Update
The fun just doesn't stop with AT&T. This month I got a bill. I was just about to put phone bills back on auto pilot, but something told me to look one more time. Instead of shit canning this envelope with all the other junk mail, I opened it. Seems that AT&T shows a balance of $6.00 on my account. Cripes. They can't even close out an account correctly.
On that bill is a note
"Pay online at www.att.com/payatt". That sounds super to me. I enter the URL in my web browser. Guess what - nothing. The page comes up, but it's blank. Nothing there. Nada. Zip.
Ok, I go up a level to www.att.com. The site asks me for my phone number. I supply it. It immediately takes me to a site that says AT&T but has "sbc" in the URL. It's clearly AT&T, not AT&T. In fact, I cannot pay my AT&T bill at this AT&T site.
Sheesh. So I go back to www.att.com and look for a "contact us" link. I find one. I send in my comment about their broken web site. I get back an email from SBC (yes, it says "SBC" on it, not AT&T) saying "thanks for the feedback". Well that's going nowhere.
I won't bore you with the call I make to AT&T support. Suffice it to say that the nice man with a Texan accent tried to explain how web sites work to me. He was nice enough, but I finally had to pound it into his head that the printed bill they sent to me and probably a million other people references a web page that does not exist. Whew.
Can you imagine how screwed up we'd be if we let the folks who run these companies do something important for our country? I'm just happy they're stuck running telephone companies.
Time for me to put this all behind me. Back to Addison Avenue on the web. I again enter, for the very last time, the AT&T address and send them a check. Should I? Dare I? Ok, I will.
Instead of a check for $6.00, I send them one for $7.00.
A man can't have too much fun when playing with AT&T. Or is it AT&T? Oh God, I hope I sent it to the right AT&T!
Guess what? I'm back to having two AT&T bills again! Jesus! AT&T bought my cell phone provider, Cingular. Now my cell phone bill has a big AT&T logo on it and a little "we used to be Cingular" in the upper left hand corner. I can only imagine how I'm going to screw this up.
Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)