Why I Fired AT&T

It's hard to break up with a longtime partner. Yes, they make it hard, but it's also about a feeling of familiarity, consistency — and,  honestly, commitment.

I was with AT&T for 11 years.

Back in 2007, Steve Jobs did a deal with what was then a struggling cellphone provider. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, controversially, gave Apple total control of the software; in exchange, AT&T got the exclusive to sell the phone. That exclusive lasted a remarkable three years.

So that was how AT&T got me and my family. But yesterday, after three weeks of wrangling, hours and hours of phone calls, absolute lies from sales reps and managers, and two egregious price increases,  I walked away.

So what happened?

$85.4 billion: That’s what Stephenson paid for Time Warner in a deal that closed just three weeks ago. So now AT&T owns CNN, HBO, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers Studios, and the rights to March Madness.



AT&T was sued by the Department of Justice to stop the merger and fought back, saying: "There is no sound evidence from which the Court could fairly conclude that retail pay-TV prices are likely to increase."

Lie #1. My bill went from $206 a month to $273 this month. (Details in a moment). While ATT said I would save money, my bill went up. I changed plans twice. It didn't matter.

AT&T promised customers and the court that it wouldn't bundle products to force customers to take services they didn't want, or up-charge for products labeled “free.”

Lie #2. AT&T raised so-called administrative fees from 76 cents to $1.99 two weeks ago. The company tried to hide the increase like it's a tax, but it's just a price increase, plain and simple. This increase will cost consumers $800 million a year.

There’s also the pressure it’s putting on front-line sales team to sell, upsell, or “slam” customers with charges and services. Evidence of this is now public in at least one Hawaiian case, according to DSL Reports.

On at least two occasions, as I struggled to understand why my bill was going up, I was told that I “have to take DirectTV — but it's free.” Actually, there’s no longer any AT&T package that doesn't include TV, and it's not free.

Lie #3. AT&T reps on two occasions misquoted prices and removed discounts, despite promises that they'd lower my bills. They said that "unlimited" bandwidth had "limits" — which they couldn't explain, except to say "congestion" would trigger slowdowns.

The last time I contacted the call center, the recording said my call would be answered within six minutes. Fifty-four minutes later, when a call center employee picked up, I asked if she was dealing with a lot of unhappy customers. "No, not at all,” she said. “We had a natural disaster in one of our call centers, and we're having to retrain some new staff."

Lie #4. The only report of any “disaster” affecting an AT&T call center would be the firing of 101 employees in Harrisburg, Pa. When questioned, the operator suggested these jobs might be going a new call center in the Philippines, where operators “aren't trained yet."

It's all about TV.

ATT CEO Randall Stephenson has bet the company on video. Buy TV assets, invest in TV infrastructure -- and fundamentally change the AT&T offering from a phone offering to a consolidated TV/voice/data offering. Stephenson bet with 60 billion in borrowed dollars and a 108 billion total acquisition.

So you can see how, on paper, every price increase, fired phone center operator, and slammed service sale is urgently needed before the Time Warner bill comes due.

The only problem is, the bet assumes three critical things:

1). That customers want to pay for TV on their phones.
2) That customers are lazy and don't want to switch.
3) That the marketplace alternatives (like Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) won't justify the pain of switching providers and devices.

The data site Statista notes that consumers  are looking for better deals from cell phone companies: In the spring of 2017, 25 million cell phone customers were ready to change services.

A few other specifics worth reporting:

In past years, when I've reached out to AT&T about data overages, I've spoken to a “retention specialist” who was able to remove a few charges, offer some discounts, and retain my account.

But this year, for the first time, I heard on the other end of the phone staffers who were discouraged and given no tools. I was told "there's nothing I can do" about a $30 charge from a phone scammer. "Yes, it's a scam, but you picked up the call," said one operator. Or, regarding the $15 charge for 1gb of data over my 20gb limit, one operator noted, "Well, you did use the extra bandwidth, didn't you?" in a schoolmarm tone.

When I mentioned that $15 for 1GB was a massive charge for a small amount of bandwidth, I was told: "You could change carriers.”

So, that's what I did.

After 11 years as an AT&T customer, I'm now with Verizon.

6 comments about "Why I Fired AT&T".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Mark Aronoff from Pathmatics, July 9, 2018 at 1:06 p.m.

    I feel your pain Steven.  As a former employee of Verizon by way of acquisition I can unequivocally say the runaround by reps the poor customer service and frustrating experience will absolutely be replicated if not exaggerated.

    However as you say the alternatives at the moment are few and far between and not sure if that's to the benefit of the consumer as the ink is barely dry from this deal and to aggregate and consolidate the merging of these two behemoths will take time.

    Good luck.

  2. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising, July 9, 2018 at 1:22 p.m.

    I CAN hear you now Steven.  AT&T suckered me into moving to thier service when I needed Direct TV.  I had no other options, outside of Dish in the woods.   Now I live in town, and AT&T keep raising my rates as well, even thought I dropped Direct TV.  It's the same with Comcast.  you MUST bundle all service to get the best price, so on the investors balance sheets, they see money being spent on ALL services, even though the only Comcast service I wanted was the internet.  Verizon is not any better.  Soon as my phone contract is up in two months, I'm going to try another service.  We do have that option.  Glad you exercised yours.

  3. Tracey Scheppach from Matter More Media, July 9, 2018 at 1:27 p.m.

    ATSC 3.0 Can't get here fast enough!! We need a new bit highway. 

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 9, 2018 at 2:02 p.m.

    MP won't like this. They got totally bent out of shape when I said Comcast does not live up to their contracts. They make a deal and then raise the prices and blame it on taxes. If you want this all to change, then vote for the individuals who agree that instead of mergers approved, these conglomerates should be broken up into little pieces.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 9, 2018 at 2:14 p.m.

    Sounds something like why I fired Verizon. The final straw came when my phone service failed and Verizon promised to send someone out to fix it the next morning---but no one came. Then I was told that it would take eight days to get someone to my home in New York City---not Podunk Montana---- to deal with the problem. I told them not to bother.

  6. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), July 9, 2018 at 2:15 p.m.

    Same experience, different company. Time Warner became Spectrum, and Direct TV is the only alternative to cable in Charlotte. My bundled Spectrum TV, Phone, Internet bill was about to go from $206 to close to $240. So we switched a couple of things around and downgraded to basic cable, now paying $115. We already had Prime so it was an easy decision.

    We also switched from Verizon to T-Mobile and lowered a phone bill of close to $200 to $60 with many more relevant bells and whistles and excellent customer service.

    As they say, it pays to shop around. And it pays to re-evaluate!

Next story loading loading..