Hello Manifestites! You thought I forgot about you, didn’t you? I wouldn’t say I flat out forgot about you, it’s more like I purposely made you wait just so the next blog entry would be that much more enjoyable. Or something. In this episode we encounter what it’s like to have the biggest telecom company in the world try to fix what should be a routine issue. Hold on and enjoy the ride!
I’ve been an AT&T U-Verse customer for a long time now. 5 years maybe? I honestly don’t remember and can’t be bothered to research it. Milwaukee was a pilot city for U-verse and overall I’ve been really happy with the TV and Internet service they provide. I’ve had a few minor issues, and only one that I’d consider a major one. Almost exactly one year ago there was a problem where the router/gateway/modem (known as gateway from this point forward) would fill up with errors and reboot itself, which cut off TV and Internet for a good 5 minutes. It took a few inside techs and a few outside techs about 2 weeks to fix that one, but after a good bit of outside work and replacing the gateway, the problem went away completely.
This new problem started in early December, but because it wasn’t quite annoying enough and because I was sick for the entire month of December I didn’t bother calling it in for a while. The problem is an intermittent disconnection problem. Internet and TV drops for anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Just long enough to disconnect remote work session, online games for the kids, screws up DVR recordings, and hangs up phone calls since we have Vonage which is VOIP. And of course long enough to be really annoying.
Before I really get started I’ll write a bit about what I know about AT&T’s support. When you use their online chat you get a tier 1 person. If tier 1 is unable to solve the problem they can transfer you to tier 2. If you call on the phone you immediately get a tier 2 person, but you usually have to wait a good 10 minutes to talk to them. There’s typically no wait for a tier 1 chat person, and all of their names are foreign. Thing is, there’s no difference at all between what a tier 1 and tier 2 person can do. They can go through the typical reboot the router, reboot your computer troubleshooting, view the line status, and send out an inside tech (tech that comes to your house and deals with everything from the phone jack outside to the gateway inside). They can’t dispatch an outside tech. In fact, only an inside tech can dispatch an outside tech. It makes sense in the fact that they don’t want to send someone up a telephone pole when a gateway reboot could fix it, but it doesn’t make sense when something happens like my situation, which you’ll see in a bit. So as far as time goes, the online chat is the easiest and fastest way to get a technician dispatched.
Here’s where we begin. It’s sometime in early January. I used AT&T’s online chat and they created a ticket for me for an inside tech to come out to the house. I ask for a 8am-12pm time frame, he gets here about 11:45am on the appointment day. He says he can’t bring up all of a diagnostics on his fancy laptop, so he unplugs the gateway, plugs it back in and we wait for a few minutes. His eyes light up, says he can see the diagnostics now, and that this will “definitely fix the problem”. Uhh, you just rebooted the gateway you putz, you didn’t actually do anything. He leaves and says he’ll check things out back just to make sure they are ok. Uhh yeah sure. Great. Problem goes away for almost a full day.
After a few days of dealing with it I get back on the online chat get another inside tech dispatched for the next week. This time I choose the time window of 12pm-4pm so they don’t screw up my lunch. At 3:35pm I get a call from AT&T that’s an automated message. The message starts saying something about my appointment, only the fucking connection goes down and the call drops so I have no clue what the hell it said. I wait a while since I was busy with something at work, then dig up the URL they gave to check the appointment status. The site says I need to call the 800 number. Well ffs. By now it’s 4:15pm. I get on the phone and by the time I get someone it’s 4:30pm. I tell her that I was supposed to have a 12-4 appointment but I got a call a while back and because it got disconnected I didn’t know what was going on. She says “ok well let me call the dispatch center and see if the technician is going to be late.” I tell her that they’re already 30 minutes late and she just giggles and puts me on hold. WTF? She comes back to say that they are running 1 to 2 hours late. Awesome. At 5:15pm I get a call and they say they’ll be here in 30-45 minutes because of traffic. They finally get here at 6:20pm.
This guy seemed to be on top of things, and he had a trainee with him that seems more competent than most regular techs. They ran all sorts of tests, plugging devices into the gateway, running tests from their fancy AT&T branded iPads, etc. They confirmed that the gateway was fine, and the wiring from the gateway to outside of the house was fine. Of course since the problem is intermittent they didn’t see anything wrong. I showed them the logs on their own gateway that showed millions of errors, and they gave me the old tech bullshit that translates to “blah blah blah we don’t know what the fuck that means but we hope you don’t either”. They went outside to the interface box on the house and said that someone previously didn’t have enough slack on the cable so he put essentially a splicer on a piece of cat 5 cable. I don’t know how many times someone would have to be dropped on their head to think that was a valid solution to a problem, or when it was even done, but I just shook my head. He pulled more slack through, connected it the right way and said that might fix it. He did say that if the problem still happens that the inside wiring and gateway were all fine and the problem had to be on the outside, so I should call and have an outside tech come out if the problem happened again. I said wait a minute, I can’t call an outside tech, only you inside techs can. He said no, he didn’t have access to call an outside tech, and only the people on the phone could. By this time it was almost 7:30pm and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet so I just hoped the problem would go away and I let them go.
This time the problem went away for 2 full days. I had several days away from home in a row so I wasn’t able to call in a new issue until the next week, so I got online chat on and this time scheduled an appointment for the 8am-12pm window. In fact, when the guy asked me what time I wanted I said “let’s choose 8am-12pm, that way when he’s 2 hours late he’ll really screw up my day.” I did ask for an outside tech but of course the person on the chat said the only people who could call outside techs were the inside techs, and that it was not possible for someone on the chat or phone support to dispatch an outside tech. Fantastic.
Appointment day comes around and at 11:55am I get a call from the tech who arrived 15 minutes later. He remembers me because he’s the guy who showed up last year to replace the gateway which fixed last year’s problem. He again verified that the inside wiring and everything was fine, and that the only thing he could do was replace the gateway. I asked about an outside tech and he said that that would be the next step, that if replacing the gateway didn’t do it that an outside tech is the next step. Ok cool, maybe this will do it.
Or not. The disconnects started up again the very next day. I dealt with it (read: ignored it) until the weekend when I couldn’t take it anymore, so I brought up the old online chat again. Sometime early on the guy gave me a URL to use in case we got disconnected. I didn’t bother copying it figuring the window would stay up if we did and I could just click it again. He took literally 5 minutes to pull up my account information. While I was waiting I clicked on a youtube link sent over by a friend of mine. I don’t remember what it was but it I’m sure it was either some dumb animal or a skateboarder taking a nut shot, cause that’s what makes up 99% of youtube. It promptly locked up Chrome and I had to kill the window, losing the URL. Awesome. I get back in and get a different guy. I didn’t put any information in the chat form except “same issue.” I did choose “intermittent issue” from the drop down of tech support choices, so he asked me if I was still having, and I quote “problem with intermittent issue.” I said yes and told him to read my previous notes. He then asks me if we can do some “remediary” troubleshooting, whatever the fuck that is. I ask him what he wants to do, and he says he wants to reboot the gateway. I type “did you read the case notes?!?!?!? The router was just replaced 4 days ago!” He immediately says “ok let me transfer you to tier 2 so they can help.” I wait for maybe 2 minutes and literally say out loud “fuck this”, closed the chat window down and picked up the phone.
I call up, have to verify to the automated voice system that my phone number they read off to me is indeed my phone number, then get put on hold for 10 minutes. I’m greeted by a fairly nice sounding individual who told me his name is either Kali, Khan, Molaram, or Bill. It was hard to tell. First question he asks me is what my phone number is. Sigh. Now here’s the real kicker. The guy reviews the case notes and just as I’m getting ready to flinch as he tells me he has to send out inside tech #4 he says “ok sir I’m putting in a case for an outside tech to come out. You won’t need to be home and he will hopefully find and fix the problem.” Wait, what? I ask him if he’s serious, and he says yes, then promptly puts me on hold, saying he wants to confer with a senior team member to make sure this is what he should do. Ok, that sounds about right. Sure enough he comes back and says that his team member agrees, an outside tech is the right thing to do now. Err, but uhh, I thought that only the, err, yeah fuck it, nevermind, send the fucker out! I give him my cell number to call when he’s done so I can verify he didn’t fuck everything up, and quickly get off the phone before Bill Molaram changed his mind and/or I woke up from my dream where he tries to rip my heart out but instead I throw him off the bridge and the crocs eat him. He did say that the tech’s time was between 8am-8pm but because I didn’t need to be home it didn’t really matter, and that he would definitely call me when he was done.
So it’s the morning that the outside tech is supposed to arrive. Somewhere around 9am my phone rings once then stops, but doesn’t ring long enough to show a caller ID. No voicemail, no call back, nothing. I assume this was the AT&T guy cause I mean why else would that happen. Sure enough, a few minutes later the Internet connection goes out. It stays off for maybe 20 minutes, then on for 10, off for 20, on and off a few times for another 30, and then stays on. Things seemed ok for a few hours, and then sure enough, around 12:30pm it disconnects. I go online to the appointment status page that informs me that my order has been completed. Great! I must have ordered a double dose of fuckall. Looks like I also got a complimentary side of jack shit. Awesome.
Just so you know my mindset through all of this, by now I was starting to give in to the fact that I may have to just tell them to fuck off and switch everything over to Time Warner. Time Warner isn’t without their problems, and for comparable TV/Internet packages it’s going to be like $50/month more with TW. Not looking forward to that, not looking forward to having to clear off the DVR, problems with installation or any of that. I just don’t want to go through it because AT&T has been so good these last years.
Alright next step, call AT&T back again. Tell them that the outside tech didn’t fix it and that he had to come back. I told them that I was trying not to be angry, and that I wasn’t saying it as a threat, but that I was having to face the very real possibility that I would leave AT&T because of their inability to fix the problem. This chick on the phone then tells me all she can do is send out an inside tech, because the system doesn’t let the tier 2 people on the phone send outside techs out. I say wait a minute, the guy I talked to yesterday called an outside tech right away. She tells me that the system won’t let her. I say well the outside tech was here today, didn’t fix it, and he needs to come back out. She then gives away their secret loophole…if the outside tech closes his ticket, they can’t re-open it. That’s fuckin brilliant. There’s outside techs out there who likely don’t do a fucking thing all day long, write any old bullshit in the ticket closure, and then they can’t get called on it to fix it because of the way their system works. I wonder how many outside techs are getting paid to fuck off and not do anything. That’s amazing. I get her supervisor on who is almost as useful as the tier 1 chat techs who don’t know a fucking thing. Neither of these nitwits seem to understand that the outside tech was JUST FUCKING HERE, so sending another goddamn inside tech isn’t going to do any good.
I say ok, if you have to send out an inside tech he needs to be here today. This was like 2pm already, and they said ok, we have a 12-4 timeslot available, and then she actually took the time to explain to me that since it was after 12pm that the timeslot would really be from “now” until 4pm because it wasn't possible for him to show up between 12pm and 2pm. I was kinda hoping she would tell me that he could still show up at 12pm, in which case I’d kill the fucker, hide his body and steal his time machine. I went and posted a whine on Facebook about this saga and asked if we should have a pool on how many techs I can have out to my house. One guy wanted a pool to see what time he would show up. I liked that idea, but to my surprise tech #4 called at 3pm from out front of the house, and came in shortly after.
Inside tech #4 told me right away that he was going to make sure there I didn’t have to have tech #5 come out, and that he was a senior tech and he implied that he got pulled off of a job to come out and fix this issue. Not sure if that’s true, but at least someone is taking this somewhat seriously. He replaced some inside cables and got rid of some 5 year old punch down boxes and then ran what he called an intrusive test. He said it would put 120V through the line and that if there were problems with a dirty line or whatever that the test itself might fix it. As an aside, that was an old trick we used to use in the dial-up days. We would call up the phone company, tell them that we were experiencing line noise on a data connection, they’d run their test without really knowing what it was and half the time it ending up fixing the issue.
He also said he found a problem on the outside line and he was going to call in an outside tech. He showed me the software they use to run their tests, and showed me two separate tests that showed a problem about 800ft. from the house. He got on the phone with whoever it was, and said “ok hopefully I can bully them into getting an outside tech in here”, and then sure enough he had to argue with the people on the phone to get an outside tech in, and then they denied him. What the fuck? So inside techs are the only ones who can call outside techs, unless some random fucker on the phone denies it? Even if they have a test that specifically shows a problem at a specific place? (800 ft in this case, remember this by the way) Or unless it’s Kali Bill. This fucking company is ridiculous. So he hangs up and tells me “this is where I call my boss and get them to override the guys on the phone so I can put in the ticket.” He then tells me that it’s good to be him cause all his bosses like him and he knows where they are at all times, and tells me that his boss is out buying a boat. Cause yeah, we do that a lot here in Wisconsin. In January. At least there actually seems to be someone in the company that can make things happen, unlike what everyone on the phone seems to tell me.
During all this he asks me about the bass guitars I have hanging up on the wall in my basement office, and says he’s also a musician and plays “everything.” Oh boy, here we go. I already know what to expect. Usually when people say they play "everything", it means they know 4 notes on each instrument and are fair to mediocre on their best one. He has me to go his band’s myspace page and I listened to some of their music. It’s average at best and before it even starts he apologizes for the shitty recording quality. He was right. Unfortunately he didn't apologize for the song quality. First song sounded like a 2nd rate version of a Tom Petty ballad, if that's even possible. Then he has me play a song that he says they couldn't have it sound any more like a Kiss song if they tried. It sounded nothing like Kiss.
I then play him a few of the recordings from my current and previous bands including some live tracks, and I can tell right away he’s a bit intimidated. I don’t really brag about it, but I’m a very good musician, and I’ve played with very good musicians all my life. I try to be as humble as I can, just letting the music speak for itself and not bragging, and I’m pretty good at not letting my ego get in the way. Well, despite all that he decided to start the one-upping game, and it got more ridiculous as it went along. Oh, and don’t ask. I’m not going to give his band link away. Everything below aside, he was a cool guy and might have fixed the problem, so it’s certainly not a Paul (EYE) situation. (Those of you who don’t know what that means should search the blog).
He started by saying that he spent “the most” he’s ever spent on a guitar, $1200, then 2 days later got in a car accident which screwed up both of his wrists and he’s just now starting to be able to play guitar again after 6 months of not being able to play. Ok sure, I’ve been there. I couldn’t play bass for almost 2 years during my arm and neck surgeries of 2005-06. It sucked, so I feel for the guy, cause buying a new instrument and then not being able to play it would really suck. He then asks how much I spent on my main bass. It’s a really damn fine looking instrument, as can be seen here. I tried to just brush it off by laughing and saying “heh, a lot” but that wasn’t good enough, he had to know. I gave him a figure almost 3 times what his guitar cost, and then it started. He went into some story about how he was bidding on some guitar on ebay that was over $8000, and his bid stood for 2 days (he even gave me the exact amount of the bid), and that someone outbid him with 5 seconds to go by $2. I said I had a lot of apprehension buying a bass for as much as mine was, and he said that when he was 17 he had an original Les Paul guitar made by Les Paul himself and that it was $10k but one day his mom wanted to clean so she picked it up but dropped it on the cement floor where it smashed into a zillion pieces. Oh yeah, at some point he also said his band got invited to open for U2 in Ireland, but that they had to pay $15k or so to fly there and move all their gear there, and they couldn’t afford it, despite getting $200k if they played the gig, so they had to pass it up.
Anyway, that was amusing and all but eventually he left, said he would put the ticket in for the outside tech to come out and it would probably be the next day. But, not only wouldn’t I have to be home, he wouldn’t call me, and that he would just get things done and it should be fixed. Cause you know, that worked so well the first time. He did give me his personal cell number and told me to call him if it happened again. He was nice and all but I really hope I never have to talk to him again.
Strangely enough, around 6pm that same night, the doorbell rings. It was outside tech #2 who told me that his test he ran showed a problem at 800ft. but it was under a manhole cover so he had to get a crew out the next day to do it. Imagine that, inside tech finds a problem at 800ft., some jackass on the phone won’t let the only person in the company who is able to call for an outside tech actually call for the outside tech, and once the outside tech gets here he finds a problem at 800ft. That’s what we call corporate brilliance, folks. Fuckin morons.
At this point in the story I’m going to end the blog entry. The connection has been up solid since outside tech #2 was here 4 days ago. The connection hasn't gone down once since then, so I’m pretty sure no one did anything under the manhole cover, but that’s probably a good thing since that's just one more chance for them to fuck something up and start the inside/outside/upside down cycle all over again. The error count is zeroes across the board, and speed is just fine. Throughout this whole saga I’ve kept friends up to date on various parts of the problem. They usually reply with some sort of joke like “you should probably reboot the router, yeah that’s the problem.” Sad thing is, the truth is funnier than their jokes! For those keeping track that was 4 inside techs and 2 outside techs, and however many people on the online chat and phone. I feel like I should end this with some sort of moral to the story. Moral is, don’t eat mushrooms. They’re nasty. Until next time, which may be soon, may be never, but most likely will be somewhere in between that.