How Heidi Saved Christmas

This story has more twists and turns than a mountain trail. I will attempt to be brief.

att_logoWe have TV and Internet again. God bless you Heidi from AT&T Uverse. You rock.

Am I too old to say that?

God bless you Heidi from AT&T Uverse. Well done.

This story has more twists and turns than a mountain trail. I will attempt to be brief.

Yesterday two technicians came separately to our home. It’s tough to find and fix intermittent problems. Luckily, the second tech made it permanent. No Internet. No TV.

“That’s an easier problem to fix,” I thought to myself as I sat Internetless last night.

Merry Christmas.

I spoke with JC in the Philippines last night. He made an appointment for a tech today, Christmas Day, before 12:30 pm.

This morning I woke to find a text from AT&T.

AT&T U-verse Free Alert: We resolved a network issue and service should be working. Reply: HELP if having trouble or visit Reply: STOP to opt out

No! We were still dead in the water. I was scared. If they thought it was fixed no tech would be sent.

Don’t worry, I’ll make sure the technician arrives as per schedule.

That’s what Ravi, who I texted with, assured me at 9:42 am.

12:30 pm came and went. No tech.

Let me pause the story for a second, because I want to talk about offshoring phone centers. AT&T, listen up because this is for you.

The overseas phone operators are well trained and educated, but they’re difficult to understand. More importantly, they don’t speak the American vernacular… you know… the way Americans do. It’s very difficult to have a conversation.

You’re dissing your customers. Your actions say you don’t care about our experience.

You know this because you do research, but obviously don’t care or think you don’t have to.

OK, back to today’s episode.

This time I spoke with Mark in the Philippines. Yes, no tech was coming! Contrary to what Mark said, he did not understand.

He said he’d call back within a half hour and did! Heidi, the tech, called seconds later.

AT&T, you have no idea how lucky you are to have Heidi.

She did her wizardry going upstairs and down, through the garage to our fiber connection and then back… a few times.

After an hour plus, “It’s working,” she said. And it was.

Good Grief–The Internet’s Down

It’s tough to quantify how important the Internet is. We’d go a little crazy if removed from it, even for this one evening.

att-u-verse-logo-600x400Testing 1-2-3. Can you hear me? I am coming to you via alternate means tonight. My Internet connection is gone!

This started a few days ago. Our AT&T/Uverse connection began shutting down for no apparent reason.

Sometimes it was a few seconds or a minute. Later it stretched out to a few minutes. No rhyme nor reason. All the modem lights were blinking as if it was all OK.

I spoke to an AT&T tech last night. An ‘in home’ tech was dispatched today. Four hour window. He was here 3:30 in.

Everything was working when he got here. He wanted to swap out my modem, but the system wouldn’t let him. Intermittent problems suck.

He called for an ‘outside’ repairman to check my fiber interface. I had to go, but he didn’t need me.

When I returned a Sharpied note inside the box said it had been swapped. My dad said service stopped when the guy began the repair. It never came back.

My problem had been fixed until it was broken!

This evening I spent 45 minutes on the phone with JC in the Philippines. Booting AT&T’s modem takes a L-O-N-G time. Three boots while on the phone. Once before.

We tried valiantly, but couldn’t resuscitate it.

Christmas Miracle 2014 — AT&T is sending a tech Christmas morning.

Meanwhile, no Uverse means no Internet and no TV!

John and Veronica next door have lent us their WiFi. Helaine’s on that upstairs. Based on WiFi they are Arcadia Fire fans.

Let me add, great neighbors are hard to find. John, Veronica and their three kids are great neighbors.

My dad’s iPad wouldn’t connect, but he’s reading a book he brought with him.

I’m on my laptop. It and my tablet are online… I can’t tell you how.

It’s tough to quantify how important the Internet seemed when it was gone. We’d go a little crazy if removed from it, even for this one evening.

Comcast And AT&T: Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

New Haven Comcast officeComcast is in the process of swallowing Time-Warner. AT&T has just announced they’re purchasing DirecTV. Maybe I just haven’t looked closely enough, but where is the benefit to citizens?

The biggest trend in American business over the past few decades has been consolidation. Much of it is subject to regulatory approval. It should be subject to regulatory scrutiny. That part seems sorely lacking.

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

Comcast as every incentive to do more of the same, protecting their legacy businesses through the terms they offer consumers.

Will programming and distribution deals be structured, as many are now, to protect Comcast’s cable TV business? Why do I even ask?

There was a time in America when bigger was better. Charles Erwin Wilson, nominee for Secretary of Defense in the early 1950’s famously tried to hold onto his GM stock while in office&#185.

Because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.

att_logoAnd maybe, sixty years ago, it was. Employment scaled up as company’s did.

Is there anyone who actually believes the Comcast or AT&T acquisitions will have a positive outcome for America? More choice? More employment? More investment? Better technology?

“This compelling and complementary combination will bring significant benefits to all consumers, shareholders and DIRECTV employees,” said Mike White, president and CEO of DIRECTV. “U.S. consumers will have access to a more competitive bundle; shareholders will benefit from the enhanced value of the combined company; and employees will have the advantage of being part of a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned to meet the evolving video and broadband needs of the 21st century marketplace.” – AT&T press release

The important part is there in the last sentence:

a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned

We’re already dealing with companies treading very close to the anti-trust line. Take the bundling of cable TV services, where I have to buy loads of channels I don’t want to get the ones I do.

Typically, the “tied” product may be a less desirable one that the buyer might not purchase unless required to do so, or may prefer to get from a different seller. If the seller offering the tied products has sufficient market power in the “tying” product, these arrangements can violate the antitrust laws. – Federal Trade Commission

The system is being gamed and these mergers and acquisitions will only make things worse. It’s time to put a stop to it.

&#185 – He sold his stock before his appointment, but after his confirmation hearing.

When Companies Shift The Burden To Their Customers

att-u-verse-logo-600x400Having a blog allows me to kvetch, even about small things… like what happened this morning.

My experience was shared by many. Consider this a class action kvetch. I represent the thousands, possibly millions, affected by today’s nationwide outage on AT&T U-verse.

My local TV stations remained. Everything else disappeared. I didn’t know that at the time.

The tuner was set to 1202, CNN. Black. I tuned up a few. I tuned down a few. Nothing. The channel number and program synopsis was still there. No program.

Downstairs, Helaine was watching GMA on 1007, KABC. She was problem free.

Both our cable boxes were acting the same way, but because I didn’t tune a few hundred channels down I didn’t know it! Just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

I rebooted the cable box. The box must be the problem, right?

I did this three times. No change.

There was nothing on AT&T’s site, nor on their social media accounts. Later, I realize this was because they were maintaining ‘radio silence.’ They were getting tons of complaints and not responding.

All signs I could grasp pointed to a problem in my house. But I was being gnawed at. My logical computer mind was bothered by the way the signal died. It didn’t fit. The problem didn’t correlate with the box’s internal hardware.

I rebooted the hub. AT&T sends channels to my individual cable boxes via IP. It’s just data. I have one TV with a WiFi box and three connected via Ethernet. And, of course, there are computers and phones and printers and tablets and who-knows-what connected too!

Rebooting the hub meant stopping Internet and TV throughout the house. Didn’t help.

I tried calling the AT&T phone line. Fast busy. A fast busy indicates the circuit, rather than an individual line, is busy. Probably call volume.

That was actually reassuring! Maybe I wasn’t alone?

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Cable has gone down before. I started doing deeper searches.

No news organization had picked up on it. I did a Twitter search for people tweeting to Uverse. Bingo. My story, a thousand times.

I tipped off @LanceUlanoff at Mashable

When reached for comment, an AT&T spokesperson explained the outage, “Due to a power-related issue triggered by a third-party at our video hub, U-verse customers may be experiencing a loss of national channels. Technicians are working to resolve the issue and we expect to have service fully restored by early afternoon. We apologize for this inconvenience.”

By keeping off social media and failing to post something on the company’s website, AT&T hoped to keep this quiet. They mostly did.

However, they shifted a real burden to their customers. My troubleshooting time might not be individually valuable, but multiply it by all the people who did just what I did and we’re talking big numbers.

I understand there will be glitches. I still consider the service reliable. The bone I pick has to do with 21st Century communications.

AT&T valued their own concerns over mine.

If you’re wondering why customers sometimes dislike companies, here you go.

The Cellphone’s Mortal Enemy: Lint!

Errand Day in Irvine! My chance to score daddy points with Stef. I took her car for a smog test, oil change and wiper blades.

My phone beeped twice as I took it from its charging stand. “8%,” a large notice on the screen read. This was a problem.

stef's-car-on--a-liftBy the time Stef’s car was on the lift the phone had died entirely!

I plugged it in. Nothing.

What about a cellphone free weekend. I could handle that, right?

Who am I kidding?

My phone is an HTC One. I’d get one again in a second. It’s a wonderful phone with a solid build and battery that lasts through a full day!

Well… usually.

The AT&T store is five minutes from here. Not their job! They sent me to the central repair facility near the 405.

I handed my phone across the counter. He held it up to the light and looked at the charging port. His stare was intense.

“No water,” I offered.

They always look for water as a way to get off the hook. A few seconds later he was pushing a cloth across the port’s connectors.

“Maybe a little lint,” he said, though he didn’t sound totally convinced. “Let me put it on the charger for a few minutes.”

I went for coffee and came back to find the phone turned on with a 3% charge. It was back from the dead and slowly building its strength.

Lint? Lint did this? Or did he just get lucky?

Nearing Six Months In SoCal

We’re coming up on six months in SoCal. This six months has gone much faster than the six that preceded it. Living with one foot out the door, unable to make long term commitments, knowing we were going, was difficult.

People say moving is stressful. It is. No one does this for fun. There are advantages living in one place an extended length of time. Reestablishing a routine is tough.

I had to go to Santa Ana this afternoon. About 20 minutes away.

It was someplace new, but landmarks looked familiar. Some, like the Orange County Register’s building, I’d only seen from the freeway. I hardly needed the GPS on the way back.

So many things to learn. Where are the light switches in the dark? Who’s got good pizza (not easy here)? We must find a dentist.

We have no wired telephone. Contemporaries ask about that, wondering if it’s a switch they should make. Probably.

Does AT&T have a cell plan where I could add a second number to my HTC One? That would be great. I don’t want to give up my 203 number.

Do I need 949?

Does anyone care anymore?

How Much Longer Will We Pay For Phone Calls?

Basically I have flat rate service and both at&t and I know it! It’s just neither of us is saying it aloud.

I spoke with my friend Peter Mokover earlier today. That’s him in the screengrab from our Skype call. Peter’s located just south of Atlantic City.

There was a time when we’d worry about the cost of this long distance call. Now, who cares?

Let me show my age for a second. When I was growing up prices for long distance calls varied depending on the time of day.

Daytime rates were outrageous. Evenings were cheaper. Late night, calls after 11:00 PM, were cheaper still.

Phone companies offered person-to-person and collect calls. They existed to shield you from paying dearly for calls that didn’t quite work out. Do those services even exist today (other than for calls made by prisoners)?

When I was growing up there was only one way to make a long distance call–AT&T. Starting in the late seventies new long distance companies like Sprint&#185 and MCI arrived. By dialing a code or later switching your provider entirely you could put your long distance bill on a diet.

Steadily year-by-year the cost of long distance calls have come down. For the last few decades people have been predicting the end of billing individual phone calls entirely. It’s not here officially, but for me and I suppose many of you it’s the practical reality.

I buy a cell package for my family. We share 1,400 minutes per month. On top of that all mobile-to-mobile calls are ‘free’ as are calls to my ten number “A-list.” Calls after 9:00 PM or on the weekend don’t count either.

Better than halfway through our current billing cycle we’ve used 194 of our 1,400 minutes. At the same time we’ve used nearly 1,800 minutes where the meter’s not running!

If it made sense I could cut my minutes even farther. With Google Voice’s “Click2Call” I can make outgoing calls which look like incoming calls from one of my “A-list” numbers. Practically speaking that means unlimited unmetered calls!

No wonder we have 6,002 rollover minutes available!

My cell provider at&t isn’t stupid. If I tried to cut my bucket of minutes below the allotted 1,400 I’d lose a bunch off those otherwise “free” call programs.

Basically I have flat rate service and both at&t and I know it! It’s just neither of us is saying it aloud.

The downward pressure on phone rates isn’t over yet. My call to Peter was made via Skype. It was free.

The video call was about as effortless as can be. If there’s lag I didn’t feel it. Beyond that Skype has figured out how to cancel the echoes and other disturbances that come when both Peter and I use microphones and speakers (as opposed to somewhat sound isolating handsets). And though I made the call on my desktop PC I’ve got Skype on my cell too!

Skype is good, but it’s not the end of this technology shift. There are and will be more methods of moving voice and video over IP networks instead of the switched long distance we’ve all been using. The one thing I’ll guarantee is none will have an incremental cost.

Sometime within the next few years we’ll start paying for a data bucket on our phones. Use that data any way you want; no more billing for calls. That would allow the telcos to get back in the business of making a little cash on individual phone calls.

We’re going to have to start thinking differently about how communications works and how we buy it. If you buy smart you’ll surely save.

&#185 – Sprint actually began as part of a railroad! Southern Pacific Railroad had excess microwave and later fiber capacity from the lines it ran along its right-of-way. That’s how they routed calls in competition with AT&T. Sprint actually stood for “Southern Pacific Railroad Intelligent Network of Telecommunications.”

AT&T Where Not Answering Means “Yes”

This is a negative option. It makes saying nothing the equivalent of saying yes!

(Note: I incorrectly assumed the CPNI mentioned in this post includes name, address and phone number. It does not. However, this is still about marketing permission being granted to AT&T simply by my doing nothing. I apologize for any confusion caused by my error.)

I got a postcard from AT&T today. It’s at the bottom of this entry. They don’t want me to read it. Do I know that for sure? No, but I’m reasonably certain.

Have you seen AT&T advertisements? They’re beautiful and eye catching. They are compelling. They are designed to get a point across.

This postcard is designed to do the opposite! Look at it. Judge for yourself.

It is densely packed and uses a very narrow, very thin font. It’s tough to read. It is written in a cumbersome manner with large unfamiliar words sprinkled throughout.

The postcard is asking permission that most people wouldn’t freely give.

AT&T wants to sell you stuff. In that pursuit they want to pass around your “Customer Proprietary Network Information.” That’s your name, phone number and address, right? When you don’t respond (most of you won’t) AT&T will be allowed to “share customer proprietary network information within the AT&T family of companies for our own marketing purposes.”

This is a negative option. It makes saying nothing the equivalent of saying yes!

Even if you want to say “no” there are roadblocks. I found that out firsthand.

The card gives a phone number to call and opt out. After dialing I was presented with an unforeseen hurdle. They wanted a three digit number that appears on my phone bill. Nowhere on the card did it say I’d need this. I didn’t have it at hand. The call was for naught!

Opting in is easy. Opting out is difficult.

All of this is surely legal. AT&T is loaded with attorneys. The real question is: is this right?

If AT&T wanted to do right by me they’d err on the side I’d most certainly choose. To me it seems they’re doing the exact opposite.

Is This Any Way To Run A Business?

If I read this correctly at&t’s hopes for a rosy future aren’t pinned on a superior product. In large part of their future is hinged on their customer’s expense and difficulty in switching to another carrier!

I am a reasonably happy at&t customer. Yes, there are problems. About 50% of the time I speak to my child in California the call is dropped. It’s tough to make calls or use my data plan from New York City. As we found in June at&t service at Boston’s Fenway Park… oy!

For me in Connecticut mostly it’s fine and even with a love/hate relationship my iPhone is by far the best phone I’ve ever held in my sweaty hand.

That preface is necessary because I want to talk about at&t’s business a little. They have thrived with the iPhone, but it seems they’ll soon be losing their exclusivity.

If I were at&t I’d worry.

Oh hell, how can they not worry? Still their CEO was quoted today downplaying the downside of post-iPhone defections. Here’s how Electronista played it.:

These would be locked into an extended contract that would make it difficult to switch, [at&t CEO Randall] Stephenson said. The statements also gave an opportunity to reiterate beliefs that corporate and family plans would save AT&T, as 80 percent are in non-individual plans that are costlier or more impractical to leave.

If I read this correctly at&t’s hopes for a rosy future aren’t pinned on a superior product. Their business model seems predicated on their customer’s expense and difficulty in switching to another carrier!

I’m not a business person. I probably don’t see the big picture. I just wish this wasn’t how big business worked.

at&t’s New Data Pricing Is Bad For Us All

In their discussion of the new plans they talk about average monthly usage. That would be OK if they billed on average monthly usage. They don’t.

Last week at&t announced a new tiered plan for pricing data to smartphones like my iPhone. All you can eat data plans are gone. Two news plans emerge at 200Mb and 2Gb per month. Both cost less than the old unlimited model.

My plan is grandfathered in. Phew!

First a note about some at&t hanky panky. In their discussion of the new plans they talk about average monthly usage. That would be OK if they billed on average monthly usage. They don’t. My monthly average usage has been under their new cap, but I still have two months above it!

An at&t customer who fits in their new criteria might still have to pay overage charges even while averaging below the limit. Under their new plan I would. And, of course, unlike nearly everything else in this world the price per byte of data goes up as you use more under at&t’s new rate structure.

This change is bad for innovation which is bad for the consumer. I was about to lay out my reasons when I read Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley’s statement:

“While AT&T asserts that its high-end 2 GB cap will only impact the heaviest users, the fact is that today’s heavy user is tomorrow’s average user. Internet overcharging schemes like the one AT&T proposes will discourage innovative new uses and stifle healthy growth in the mobile broadband economy.

Devices like the iPhone or one of the killer Android phones or any still to-be-seen hardware are all still in the serendipitous stage. Much of what you get from them is a surprise until you actually get it! New methods and technologies are constantly being introduced. I didn’t buy my phone thinking it would be how I watch baseball or listen to NPR or guide my car, but it does all those things and more.

I expect it to do even more in the future though I have no idea what that might be!

Smartphones are transformational devices. We need to nurture their use, not stifle it. Unfortunately at&t’s plan does just that!