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AT&T Wireless: Now with more suckage
Posted by: Billy Hollis on Thursday, January 08, 2009

Telecommunications is a strange area of our economy. It's not part of the public sector, but it's so heavily regulated that it's not really a free and open market either. Plus there is rapid technological change, driven partially by advances in other industries, so business models for some parts of the telecom sector evolve rapidly. Right now that means internet access and wireless service.

I don't know very many folks who are entirely happy with their wireless service. The business model doesn't really promote satisfaction, because the industry is currently an oligopoly. The providers are mostly interested in tying down their customers to make it expensive to switch. That way, they can skimp on reliability of phones, support, and service, and customers will mostly put up with it because (1) it's expensive and inconvenient to switch, and (2) there is no obviously better alternative anyway.

This leads to much suckage from the standpoint of the consumer. I've been experiencing my ration of suckage for the last couple of months. If you want to hear me rant about it, read on. If you're not in the mood, I understand completely, so go over to for a cartoon, or maybe peruse FailBlog for some laughs.

Anyway, here's a quick timeline:

August 29: Acquired a new phone for my son, after the previous one failed in less than a year.*

November 20: New phone stopped working. Local phone store, which used to be AT&T but is now Random Company X or some such, looks at it and says "Yep, it's not working. Probably the battery." They gave me a number for warranty service.

November 21: Called warranty service. Went through the usual script. The heavily-accented tech support person says, yep, it's probably the battery. But they don't have any in stock. They tell me to go to a genuine AT&T store.

November 24: I go to a genuine AT&T store. They don't have batteries for that phone either. They tell me to call the warranty folks again for guidance.

November 25: I talk to warranty service again. They say they can't do anything until they get in a battery. "No, sir, we can't pre-order it. I can't really explain why. You need to keep calling back until we get one in. No, I don't know exactly when that will be. We might get some in next week."

November 28: I go to the AT&T store again to appeal for resolution. The result is the worst treatment I've ever experienced in any retail establishment. The fish-faced jacka$$ at the store (Cool Springs location, Franklin, Tennessee) is singularly uninterested in resolving my problem. He admits that he has 20 phones just like the one I brought in, but I can't have any of them. Or a battery. Or anything. Just go away. I understand this person was operating in some management capacity, which is a distressing sign that the company he works for was pretty stupid for hiring him and putting him in that position. I exit the store cursing loudly.

November 30: Call to warranty service. No battery available. Still.

Month of December: I have better things to do during the holidays than keep calling the warranty line. However, I have at least two incidents where the lack of a phone for my son causes wasted time and effort.

Jan 2: Warranty people say they have a battery. They send it.

Jan 6: Battery arrives. Phone still dead even after charging.

Jan 8: Call warranty service again. They go through the whole dreary script again, and reluctantly agree that they owe me a phone. But not a new one, oh no! Despite the fact that this phone functioned less than two months, I'm to receive a "refurbished" phone.

That brings us up to the present on that phone.

But that's not all. My own phone, a Cingular 3125, is less than a year old, and decided in November to start spontaneously rebooting itself. Several times a day, in fact, including once yesterday in the middle of a call attempt. It also seems to get weary of using its ringer, and just stops ringing. Turning it off and turning it back on will restore the ringing for a period ranging from a couple of hours to a day or so. Oh, and it likes to get in a poopy mood where it generates feedback into the ear speaker so bad I can't hear what the caller is saying. That's another "reboot and it will work for a while" problem.

So I guess it's replacement time for that phone. But that means I need a Windows Mobile SmartPhone (since I write software for my phone and also need it to transparently integrate with Outlook), and all current SmartPhone devices are clunky things that look like miniature computers. I hate them all.

I'd get an iPhone, which is supposed to be pretty reliable and easy to use, but I generally don't join cults. So I really don't know what to do.

I look forward to a time when a lot of this stuff becomes decoupled. There's really no technological reason phones are tied to service providers, and in fact one can buy phones outside the carrier networks today. However, that market is still immature, and seems dominated by fly-by-night outfits with names like "Mobile Stuff Now!"

Sometime next week, I'll get the refurbished phone for my son. Based on whether the suckage continues, I'll then decide whether I'm ready to jettison AT&T for someone else and replace all of our phones.

Of course, I don't necessarily expect other options to be much better, but that fish-faced idiot at Cool Springs really sticks in my craw, so I'm willing to change just to spite him.

I'm open to suggestions and comments about other options. How are you Verizon and Sprint customers doing these days?

(*) The new phone for my son is a Sony-Erickson W350, if anyone is interested. AT&T is heavily promoting them right now as their "free phone for new customers" option, probably since they have to give the pieces of junk away just to get rid of them. I broke my own rule about buying anything from Sony, since my last four Sony purchases have been bad experiences.

**Update 7:35 CST**
And, of course, Google ads comes through with this:

"Great phones at AT&T". Heh. I wish.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I loves me my Verizon and have had absolutely no problem with it for YEARS... I’m completely thrilled as I remember the bad olde early days of cel phones...
Written By: DAve
URL: http://
Second Verizon - no prolems, good service.
Written By: McQ
T-Mobile has the best customer service....ever. They don’t have the best network (I’d probably say Verizon) and it’s not a bad network (it’s reliable), but their support staff is so, well, nice that I simply can’t see myself ever leaving.
Written By: Joel C.
URL: http://
I have been happy with Verizon for years. I am always the last one with service out in the wilderness. The only problem is that because they have really good and desirable service, they feel no need to pony up on deals with manufacturers for the best phones, so no iPhone, etc. But the phone choices are acceptable, if not great.

Further, Verizon absolutely blew everyone else away recently in the consumer reports issue on cell service providers. Probably still on the newsstands, or at the library
Written By: coyote
I’ve been on VErizon for years now. No problems.
Written By: Bithead
What about the Verizon Wireless PN-820 Smartphone?

Wanted a Pro model phone so I didn’t look at that one (And skipped the 3125 for the same reason) as it’s not the PPC variety. And at $10 cheap. But has Win 5.0.

I miss my Samsung i760, but with 2 of them becoming bricks in under a year I understand why Verizon yanked them.
Written By: Ryan
URL: http://
I have to back Verizon. My phone’s a little wacky (the enV), but it’s mostly due to abuse on my part I’m pretty sure.

Digital Trends has reviewed a few phones on their podcast. Check them out, and see what strikes your fancy...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
I’ve had good luck with Verizon as well. No problems and great coverage, if a little pricey. Several friends have been quite happy with T-Mobile, as well.

I’ve also been using LG phones the last 4-5 years. I’ve abused the hell out of them and they keep on ticking. The only time I had to replace one due to my abuse was when I broke it clean in half at the hinge.

Written By: Nathan A
URL: http://
Both my wife and I have been Sprint customers for 7 years. My wife still has the original phone she got; I dropped mine in a puddle with the cover open and had to replace it about 4-5 years ago.

My phone is a Sanyo; hers is a Samsung. Of course, they don’t have a lot of the fancier bells and whistles (no camera, no real video playback capacity), which means less stuff to go wrong. KISS, always.

All my other services (internet, landline, cable) are with Verizon and they’ve been pretty good too.
Written By: SDN
URL: http://
This is going to sound smug as hell, so I apologize.

I was issued a cell-phone from my former employer back about 8 years ago (it was my first cell phone). When I left that job, I paid the 60 dollar fine for "lost/misplaced phone" and went to a bridge over the Hudson River and tossed it. Felt good.

Now, when I hear people debate the merits of one service over another, or different phone models, it sounds like they’re comparing who has the better hand-cuffs or leash. "My handcuffs are made of gold." "Well, mine aren’t gold, but they can go everywhere with me. And they can take pictures."

I haven’t missed the phone once. And that’s with two flat tires in the boonies and a couple of long road trips.
Written By: Jim Sullivan
I don’t know that your reaction is smug, Jim. Certainly there are people that allow phones to dominate their life. Some even like it that way. To each his own, I guess.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t much care for talking on the phone, so I get about two or three calls a day. And I really *want* those particular calls. I don’t make my number widely available, and for low priority stuff, I’ll steer someone to email. I almost never talk on the phone more than five minutes at a stretch.

But finding out that I don’t have to make an hour round trip because the meeting has been cancelled five minutes after I left the house gives me that hour back. Finding a person I’m supposed to meet at a crowded conference by calling and saying "Wave your hands over your head" saves endless frustration. As I get older and my memory becomes less reliable, having a device to remind me of appointments and keep up with phone numbers and email addresses for contacts is worth it alone (and I used to carry a Palm device just for that).

The key is using our devices to enhance our lives rather than run our lives.
Written By: Billy Hollis
Truly, this is all that need be said...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
What about the Verizon Wireless PN-820 Smartphone?
Ryan, I took a look at that and it’s exactly what I had in mind. AT&T has no current model even close to that form factor. So that’s another reason to switch to Verizon. Maybe one just as good as spiting a fish-faced idiot.

Written By: Billy Hollis
Another Verizon customer here. Been with them for years with never a problem. I may remember dropping two calls in the last eight years.

Mo only problem with them is that I can’t decide whether my next upgrade is going to be a Samsung Omnia, or the XV6900.

I’d grab an iPhone in a minute if they were available through Verizon. I love my iPod touch.
Written By: Dale Franks
I’m with Jim, and it’s not a question of "letting a cell phone dominate your life." It’s a requirement of my job. I have to take the call and it’s always bad news, something’s down. My phone and calls are free (to me) and I’d use this thing for target practice if I could. When I retire, I won’t own one.

I bought a cheap($25), unlocked Motorola (Moto F3) because the stupid Samsung the company gave me would go to mute if I accidently bumped the nicely protruding lever on the side, which I often did. Since they forced us to Cingular/ATT, all I needed to do was transfer the SIM card. It works, coverage is OK.

My daughter has and loves Verizon. Coverage is better. She’s got an LG phone, not super fancy, but kids (she’s 23) live on these things.
Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
I am a happy AT&T customer in GA. I left Sprint for ATT this summer and joined the cult of the iPhone. I’m not usually a band wagon jumper, but I’m glad I did.

Have you called ATT customer service? if you have them for residential, go that route. they are awesome and are local ;-)

Another ’thumbs up’ for the iPhone... my screen went dead on 12-22. Nothing would get the screen back - the phone would ring, and I could answer it, but an iPhone without a screen s worthless. i went in to the Apple store on the Sunday night before Christmas expecting a nightmare. A kid looked at the phone an said ’that’s weird’ and then got me a new one. no questions asked. i was out of the store in 20 minutes. I’m seriously considering dropping my PC and getting a Mac now.
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
I understand, Mark, but that’s a distasteful aspect of a job, not a lifestyle choice. I had a beeper for a while at a job, and I hated it.

I worked my way through high school and college at a grocery store, and I’m really, really happy I never again have to smile at an irate room-temperature-IQ customer who just dropped that jar of mustard I have to clean up. But I don’t hate grocery stores, because now I only go in one if I choose to and I only have to smile at the people I want to smile at.
Written By: Billy Hollis
meagain, as a former BellSouth customer, I do have AT&T residential, a bundled plan in fact. But I wasn’t expecting them to do anything about wireless because the coordination between the two has been so clumsy in my past experience. It took them a long time to get their billing systems coordinated - payments in one system didn’t prevent nasty notices about paying from the other.

So I’ll give them a try and see what happens. Thanks for the suggestion and for noting your good experience with them. You’re the first person I’ve heard from in a long time that has anything positive to say about AT&T.
Written By: Billy Hollis
I use a Treo 750 with support from ATT. Both are sh!t.
Written By: Is
URL: http://
Apparently I’m in the minority here, but I recently suffered the worst customer service I’ve ever gotten anywhere, from Verizon Wireless. When I had a problem, each of the dozen or so people I dealt with (in person and on the phone) had a different understanding of Verizon policy, and what it was possible for me to do.

It’s a long and not very interesting story, but it caused me to waste a lot of time and gas to get exactly nowhere. Verizon has seen the last dollar they’ll ever get from me.
Written By: Robby
URL: http://
Verizon, LG EnV, no complaints whatever about either of ’em. Billy, you probably already know I’m a Mac guy thru and thru, but no way will I consider an iPhone as long as they’re tethered to AT&T. A good friend of mine has one, and is constantly badgering me about getting one, showing me all the neat features and such. "You need one! You NEED one!" Invariably, within five minutes of such, he’ll ask to borrow my phone so he can make a call. Happens every single time, no foolin’. It’s too funny for words.
Written By: Mike
Verizon, w/LG phone, about which I’ve never seriously cared whether it lived or died. I’ve bounced it all over hell & half of Georgia and it just goes.

As for the leash: anyone who dials my number is ready when I answer — "Explosives! How can I help you?" You can figure out that only qualified people have my number.

Nothin’ to it.
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—
I’ve been with Verizon for years- love their service and coverage. Recently switched to ATT because of bundling- was going to save about $50/mo. on internet, home phone and wireless. Went home and had ZERO signal on cell phones. Regained sanity and reinstated Verizon service. Lesson learned......
Written By: rev
URL: http://
Billy, my own favorite answer is "Abdul’s House of 1000 delights, #363 speaking." You would be amazed at how much more effective that is than the Do Not Call list...
Written By: SDN
URL: http://
I love my T-Mobile, it has a great functions and features. I also like its camera section, good picture quality.
Written By: Cell Phone Accessories

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