For Christmas in 1997 my grandmother gave twenty-two year old me a gift: a Nokia mobile phone with a battery the size (and weight) of a brick and offered to pay the bill for one year. After that it would be on me to cancel it or keep it and pay it myself.
Needless to say, twenty-two year old me was excited. I was entering the rarified 90s air of having a cell phone.
Also probably because my younger self had no idea of what was in store for my cellular service under AT&T in the coming decade and a half.
In December of 1998 I took over the phone contract, which was running about sixty bucks a month at the time (HA!!) A year later I upgraded to an Ericsson flip phone because I thought it was cool to have a flip phone. Snapping it shut after a call was cool and dramatic.
Over the next few years I changed phones every couple of years and never really had anything you could call a major issue. I made calls, I received calls, I paid the bill. At one point I wound up with a Nokia phone that my then-girlfriend thought looked like a vibrator, which meant replacing the phone. Not for the reason you think, you pervert.
Occasionally I’d hear about better contracts being offered by other carriers, but the process of porting a mobile number back then was a lot more complicated and took a couple of days and involved both carriers working out the details while sacrificing a chicken to the sun god Ra on the third Wednesday of the month during lunch. It was too painful to deal with and I’d gotten used to my number and didn’t want to change it. So for better or worse, I stuck it out with AT&T.
I stuck with AT&T through the SBC/BellSouth/Cingular re-branding from 2004-2007. I stuck with them when I was told my account information wouldn’t change when my account was moved to Cingular only to have my service stopped for non-payment because the money I had been paying on my AT&T account sat unapplied to my now deactivated AT&T account while my new account with Cingular showed no payments being made. I stuck with them as it took three people to figure out how to migrate the payments I’d made to my AT&T account that was deactivated to the new account with Cingular.
I stuck with AT&T in spite of the mishap in which I purchased an international calling plan in 2005 when I took my girlfriend to Venice to propose and let her use my phone to call friends and family to share the news only to discover on my return that somehow the plan hadn’t been set up correctly and Cingular wanted more than $600 in roaming charges.
I stuck with AT&T after correctly setting up an international plan for a trip to Ireland went haywire when I was unable to make calls at all because the phone I was using was not quad band, in spite of being told explicitly before I left that my phone was quad band. But hey, no roaming charges!
I stuck with AT&T because I wanted an iPhone in 2006 and they were the only carrier who had the deal with Apple.
I stuck with AT&T because I’m a bonehead and even as smartphones suddenly became the rage and it became painfully obvious the carrier wasn’t prepared for an increase in data usage I figured they’d eventually sort it all out.
I stuck with AT&T for years in spite of working in an area of midtown Manhattan that had absolutely no coverage at all. After numerous phone calls and emails with the office of the president of AT&T I finally got a ‘communications technician’ to visit said office and was told the nearest AT&T towers were located four blocks away and the service was being interfered with by elevator shafts and other buildings. When this was relayed to the office of the president I was told this was actually a lie and no further investigations would be performed and I was essentially out of luck.
I stuck with AT&T when I couldn’t get service in my second floor apartment in Brooklyn except in the bathroom and not one person I spoke with could provide an explanation except to blame the building’s construction materials, in spite of the fact that my neighbor’s Verizon phone worked just fine.
I stuck with AT&T even after I learned that my grandfathered-in ‘unlimited’ data plan was actually capped at 4GB, and anything over that was throttled. When I questioned this with customer service I was told “well yeah, it’s unlimited, but we have to cap it SOMEWHERE.” So grandfathered unlimited = 4GB limit.
I stuck with AT&T in spite of ever-increasing shoddy reception in lower Manhattan, which has, for the last three months, required putting the phone into and out of airplane mode every hour in order to reconnect to a tower for service. This is not phone specific, by the way. I’ve tried it with two different phones and yeah, it’s the service, stupid.
In short, I’ve stuck with AT&T for seventeen years, paying an ever-increasing amount of money for an ever-decreasing amount of service and an ever increasing amount of “I don’t care what your problem is” attitude from customer service.
Last month I missed paying the bill on time. Okay. Shit happens. I discovered this after making a phone call and having it drop because the service had been disconnected. Upon realizing I’d forgotten to make payment, I logged on to AT&T’s site to pay the bill immediately. Within three minutes of paying the bill the service was restored on my phone.
AT&T tacked on a $45 fee for ‘system related costs based on our process for reactivating your service’. Earlier today, before paying the bill, I called customer service and asked if this was a manual process or something that was automated, since it didn’t seem likely someone was sitting at a computer monitoring payments of accounts and immediately reactivating the lines. I got no clear answer to this. I pointed out my years of customer loyalty and asked for the fee to be waived as a courtesy.
Nope. That’s how we do business, I was told.
I pointed out that my contract had expired and this was going to be the tipping point that would send me elsewhere.
We hope you reconsider, I was told.
I took to twitter, thinking maybe they’d relent.
I got the exact same response. Sorry if you don’t like it, but reconsider signing up for another two years of horrible service as we increase your rates.
So. After seventeen years, AT&T has decided that the $200+ I spend a month is less valuable than the $45 fee they refuse to waive. I get that in the grand scheme of things I’m not even a cog in their system, but you’d expect a little more for a long-time customer.
Or maybe not. This is AT&T after all, and they’re notorious for not giving a shit about their customers. Just ask Randall Stephenson. No really, ask him. Here’s his email address. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Verizon here I come. Or maybe T-Mobile. Either way, goodbye AT&T. It’s not me. It’s you. It is most definitely you.