Thursday, July 31, 2008

AT&T == Lying, Deceitful, and Fraudulent

So it's been a long time since I blogged and I really hate to be so negative but I had an absolute nightmare of a day dealing with AT&T today. My birthday is coming up and Elizabeth thought it would be nice to get me an iPhone because I had been asking about them. So begins the saga. We previously had cell phones on Elizabeth's parent's AT&T Family Talk plan, which costs about $20/month for 2 lines. Elizabeth called up AT&T to figure out what we had to do to get me an iPhone. They informed us that all we needed to do was sign up for a new account and transfer our existing numbers to this account. However, despite mentioning numerous times that we were doing this to purchase an iPhone and asking explicitly about the costs, we were told "pay the transfer fee of $18/line and sign up for a Family Talk plan @ $69.99 and then go into the Apple Store and they'll set up the iPhone data plan" and you'll be good to go. (And I make it sound easy, but this really entailed 2 hours on the phone and talking to several different people at AT&T). Looking online we had a ballpark figure of around $150/month for the voice and data. This is far more than the $20/month we had been paying but we were willing to shell out the money for our own account and for the iPhone plan.

Fast forward to an hour later when we were in an Apple store trying to activate one of the few remaining iPhones. Activation failed! Apparently the new account got created as a business account instead of a domestic account and Apple couldn't activate the phone. WTF? Well we called up AT&T while at the mall and after another 30 minutes on the phone, got the new account switched to a domestic rather than business account. We go back for a second time to activate the phone and they said we're not eligible. So what everyone from AT&T neglected to mention was that despite signing up for a new account and a significant additional cost, by transferring our numbers we were still bound under the original contract. Nevermind the fact that we 1) weren't switching companies and 2) we were actually bringing MORE money in for AT&T since we were going from paying $20/month for the next year to paying $150/month for the next 2 years.

That's all fine and dandy but what I don't understand is how they can sign us up for a new contract under different terms but hold us to the original contract. They were all too happy to charge us $36 to transfer our numbers and commit us to paying $150/month for the next 2 years but when we want to get the iPhone at the discount all of a sudden the story is that we're still under the other contract and are not eligible for the phone at the reduced price. Now, I can understand the transfer logic and I can understand the new account logic. What I can't fathom is how they think they can enforce two contracts, with conflicting terms, at the same time? Either the new account comes under the old contract terms, and I pay $20/month through September 2009 and no iPhone upgrade (not really a new account then) or the new account is treated like a new account at the new rate for the new time period and I'm eligible for the iPhone upgrade. One or the other, but you can't have both!

But it doesn't end there. I went ahead and signed up a new single account under my name to purchase an iPhone. This meant having to get a new number. After the Apple store, we walked down the hall in the mall and went into the AT&T corporate store thinking it might be a refreshing change from spending hours on the phone. We explained the situation to the customer service rep there and he was all to happy to try and rectify the situation. He said "sure, we can just transfer those numbers back to the original account and close the new account". We were like, that's fine even though my old number/phone would basically go unused now that I had a new number. It would save Elizabeth from having to change her number. The AT&T rep couldn't do the transfer from his system because of that stupid business vs. domestic error so he called the corporate office to get things fixed. He almost got it but then needed permission from Elizabeth's mom to add us back onto the Family Talk plan. This makes sense, so I don't fault them for that. Unfortunately we couldn't get Elizabeth's mom on the phone so we couldn't continue.

It was at that point that the rep informed us that it would cost an additional $18/line to transfer the numbers back! So we had to pay to transfer the lines to a new account, despite the fact that no one informed us that we wouldn't be able to purchase the iPhone at the reduced rate and now they wanted to charge us an additional $18/line to transfer back. All that after spending the whole afternoon, from noon to 5PM either on the phone or in stores dealing with AT&T! The rep, Andrew "Drew" at the Southdale AT&T store then proceeded to get in our face about the charges and be quite rude. "Well it's not like we just went in and changed it without permission." No, but you also were deceitful when you said that all we had to do was sign up for a new account and transfer our numbers and then we'd be good to go.

But the best is yet to come. So we leave the store and Elizabeth immediately gets on the phone again with AT&T. Once she actually gets to a live person, she explains the situation for the umpteenth time and then gets flak when she asks for a manager after the person on the other end won't help her. After explaining the situation yet again, the manager seems sympathetic and is willing to waive the transfer fees. She begins the process of transferring back and then magically says "we can't transfer back because lines in a new account can't be transferred for 60 days". So the only thing you can do is transfer the 3 lines on her parents account to our account for 2 months and then transfer them to another account after that. And guess what, that's $18/line for each line and then another $18/line to transfer off our account. All because transferring back wasn't possible. Gee, well our buddy Drew in the store seemed to think it was possible. So yet again, AT&T comes up with these convenient rules.

So let's re-cap. When you sign up a new account with AT&T and try to transfer your lines, beware that despite them taking significantly more than what you were paying before and binding you to an additional 2 years, they can and will choose to enforce the previous contract when it suits them. So basically you're bound to 2 contracts and they've got you over a barrel by using whichever suits them at the time. You should also not expect to be informed of absolutely anything, especially not contract terms when you sign up for your new old account. Furthermore, what you can and can't do changes from person to person and from minute to minute. Our buddy Drew was going to transfer us back and the manager on the phone was going to transfer us back but then randomly came up with this no-transfer during 60 days rule which conveniently nets AT&T an additional $108 in transfer charges. The best part is, and what no one at AT&T seemed to grasp, was that it was in their interest to just give us a new account and let us sign up for the iPhone because it meant we went from paying $20/month to paying $150/month AND they had us for 2 full years! I hope some AT&T investors stumble across this and realize how poorly managed the company is that they are throwing away money and souring customers.

So at this point, there's not much we can do. We're going to let Elizabeth's mom talk to them and see if she can make any headway. Tomorrow I'm going to file a complaint with the MN Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau for deceitful and fraudulent practices. If Elizabeth's mom doesn't make any headway, I think we'll be contesting the charges with our credit card company and we'll have to see if it is worth filing in small claims court. After that, I'm out of ideas. The only advice I have is: steer clear of AT&T if you can.

Through it all, the Apple Store employees were helpful and pleasant to work with, even going so far as to try and cover for AT&T. It was all too obvious, though, that AT&T was in the wrong. They were truly apologetic that we had to go through such a mess, and didn't want this experience to sour our opinion of Apple and the iPhone. No worries, though, as we got nothing but top notch service from Apple.

Time for bed, it's been a long day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

St. Petersburg, Russia

Sorry for the lack of recent updates. It seems like I've been on a tour for work: Lincoln, Potsdam, and now St. Petersburg, Russia all in the last month or so. And if

St. Petersburg is like no place I've ever been. The diversity and contrast between buildings is amazing. You'll be walking down the street and see buildings with huge golden domes and intricate architecture next to a no-nonsense, utilitarian building that looks like it has been abandoned.

Overall, I've had good luck with the people. Most have been friendly and helpful. The rest have been largely indifferent to my butchering the pronunciation of the few Russian words I've picked up via osmosis.

The biggest adjustment for me is the lack of smoking bans in public areas. I was shocked when we arrived and I saw someone lighting a cigarette in the hotel lobby. It's completely different from the US and is something I don't think I'd want to get used to.

I've had a hard time adjusting to the timezone. It is 9 hours different from home but for whatever reason I haven't been sleeping very much and not on a regular schedule. Part of the problem may be that there's very little darkness at night during the summer. It usually gets dark around midnight and stays dark for 2 hours or so. It's almost like my first weeks on the ice in Antarctica.

I'm looking forward to returning home on Saturday. My flight is early Saturday morning and I arrive back in Minneapolis around 3:30PM if all goes to plan (though I'm not holding my breath with the state of air travel these days). I have to quick rush home from the airport, change, and go to a wedding reception. I doubt I'll make much of a party guest, but I should put in an appearance. After that, I think I'll take a few days to settle back in and get on a normal schedule. I think I'm home for all of a week before I have to pop over to DC for a quick meeting. Then I think I'm going to do everything in my power to spend a full month at home in my new house. Though we'll see what comes up.