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Do not trust AT&T (or now Cingular Wireless) - worst company ethics

Why America should NOT trust AT&T

As I'm writing this, I'm on hold with AT&T customer service - supposedly being connected to someone's manager. This computer voice keeps singing to me "AT&T - the wireless service America trusts". And how great their web site is etc etc. I've been on the phone with AT&T for 70 minutes now; I'm probably going to hear this voice tonight in my nightmares.

Here is how everything began. After being switched over from Cellular One to AT&T (AT&T bought that provider) I experienced a few minor problems in the transition (one month a $190 bill) but eventually things worked out. I was on a $29.95, 400 minutes plan.

I had one of those tri-band cell phones. Cingular currently buys AT&T and they have recently heavily pushed their new GSM network.

On 3/17/2004 I wanted to add a second line and AT&T's attractive offers were for GSM network only. So I upgraded to a GSM phone. I bought a cheap Siemens phone for $20 and a LG for $50. I got a mail-in rebate form for the Siemens, so it was effectively free besides sales tax.
In the store, I mentioned that there is no need for m-mode (this is AT&T's name for internet access from a cell phone). The customer service rep said that I won't be charged for it unless I start using it. I chose a local plan for $39.95 with 1000 anytime minutes and unlimited minutes on nights, weekends and unlimited anytime between other AT&T GSM cell phones ("mobile-to-mobile", but it has to be an AT&T GSM mobile).

A few bad surprises came then.

  1. I got set up for m-mode and voice dial
    When I got my first bill, I noticed that m-mode and voice dial was billed on there but also waived in the first month.
    So I had to call in and said "Hi, why is that? I never signed up for these features!"
    The customer service rep says that they will take this feature off my account but I will be billed in this current cycle for it since it is my second cycle and that in the 3rd cycle they would make an account adjustment. I possibly might have to call in for this adjustment.
    We're just talking about a few dollars here, but I feel this is bad business practice.

  2. The free minutes are gone?
    Around 4/15/2004 - in the second billing cycle - I went online at and registered my account there. I was surprised to see something like "120 out of 200 minutes are used" for phone #1 and "200 out of 400 minutes are used" for phone #2.
    Where are the 1000 minutes that I paid $40 for?
    Another call to customer service was due. (This is a good one.)
    Some guy with an accent tells me that I have only 600 minutes, not 1000.
    • Me: "I don't have 1000 minutes air time? The sign in the shop clearly said 1000"
    • Guy: "No. The computer clearly shows 600 anytime minutes"
    • Me: "And what about the free anytime minutes to my other line? I do get those free minutes to other AT&T GSM phones, or?"
    • Guy: "Sir, there is no such thing as free anytime minutes."
    • Me: "But that's the one feature why I switched to GSM! I could've bought a second TDMA phone then. Are you sure I don't have unlimited minutes within your network?"
    • Guy: "You have free minutes on weekends and after 9pm only. I am sorry that you have been mislead. It is beyond our control what happens in those stores." [now I get out some paper works and read something to him]
    • Guy: "Oh, mobile-to-mobile minutes. Well, you didn't ask me about mobile-to-mobile minutes. Yes, you do have free mobile-to-mobile."
    We found then out that I had been put by accident on the 600 minute national plan while I actually wanted the 1000 minute local plan. Since I mostly stay in California and Las Vegas, which are both in the local area, this is the right choice for me.
    I thanked the customer service guy for switching me to the local plan.

    I think it is pretty funny that they decline to call it "free minutes to other AT&T GSM phones" but instead "free mobile-to-mobile". Clearly my wording describes the truth while their official lingo is misleading - there are no free minutes if you call someone with an AT&T TDMA phone or even a Verizon customer. But let's not get into AT&Ts ethics. Or maybe it is an example why having call centers offshore is not always a good idea?

  3. Unwanted spam
    As probably many others, I have received some advertising text message from AT&T - they try to lure you into signing up for mMode. When I received that message (it was not the regular text message of which I've received several), there were 2 options: "Load" and "Cancel" or maybe "Back". I thought that "Load" was a strange word but I just wanted to keep the message so I clicked on it and.. without a warning, it started an mMode connection, which I cancelled.
    Again I had to call customer service, had that feature disabled. Yes, I will be billed for it. I was promised an account adjustment in the following period but I possibly would have to call in for that again. At this time I also noticed I was billed for text messages on one of the two lines (I don't understand why, neither did the customer service rep), so we took that off from the other line as well. Receiving test messages still works and is free.

  4. A random $16.41 service fee
    Yes, I know it's just $16.41 and why would someone get angry about that? Because I can
    Yesterday I received a $16.41 bill - automatically billed to my credit card - for my TDMA phone (it does have the same number as my new phone, but I can tell because my TDMA bills are billed automatically to my credit card. I didn't feel comfortable enough yet to allow automatic billing of the 2 GSM lines as well, and the way it looks, I never will.
    So I won another call to AT&T customer service.
    • Me: "Why is there a $16.41 charge? And no phone calls listed, no explanation?"
    • Lady: "Your old phone had to complete one more billing cycle."
    • Me: "I stopped using the old phone on 3/17/. The bill is for 04/14 - 05/13. How can that be?"
    • Lady: "You switched on the 17th but your billing cycle is on the 14th. We cannot switch the billing date because you switched on a different date.
    • Me: "It has been 2 months and 5 days now! I got my final bill prorated a month ago and it was $2.41!"
    • Lady: [pause] That is a $15 sale fee for your new phone plus $1.41 tax. (I think: That would be a 9.41% sales tax?)
    • Me: "I bought two phones. Why not a $30 fee then?"
    • Lady: "Maybe you got a mail-in rebate"

    She was starting to make up stories now how I didn't have to pay shipping and handling for my new phone because I got it in the store and how I got the mail-in rebate. By the way, I still haven't received that rebate check; I guess it is really really due now. 6-8 weeks - ha ha ha. I demanded to speak to her supervisor to find out what this $15 service fee is.

    As I'm writing this, I actually talked to "Scott". He called this a $15 "equipment-processing fee". Gee, this term is strange, even Microsoft Word doesn't know it! No, the suggested corrections do not include "rip-off".
    I pointed out that there was no mention of an equipment-processing fee in the store (which is beyond AT&T's control as he was quick to say) and that I never signed a paper accepting such a fee.
    No, he could not revert this fee.
    At this point I wished him a nice Saturday and we ended our conversation.

    [6 weeks later]
    My credit card Discover thinks that AT&T deserves the money - solely based on an invoice. There is no contract between AT&T and me that would indicate that I agreed to this fee.

Written in June 2004, while on the phone with AT&T customer service.
Minor corrections performed and posted on 7/11/2004.
Responsible: Peter Tiemann ('ptiemann')

Generated 8:01:00 on Oct 1, 2020