Needlessly complicated

By Mir
October 4, 2010

It occurs to me that I forgot to tell you about out little adventure here, last week.

I cannot even remember which television and Internet service we had originally, when we moved into this house, because I made Otto deal with it. I believe my exact words were, “Please make it go.” Because that’s how I roll; it doesn’t matter to me—as long as it works—whereas Otto is likely to actually do some research and take care of it, and that’s part of why I like having him around. So he set up whatever it was and it (mostly) worked and that was fine.

But then a few years back we got iPhones, which meant switching away from Verizon to AT&T, and that’s when we fell down the rabbit hole. AT&T assured us that now we could save lots of money if we bundled products with them! Why, we were already using them for home phone and cell phone service, why not use their partner TV service and get their Internet service, as well? We could save DOLLARS!

I like dollars. Specifically, I like saving them. Also, I enjoy paying only one bill for four different services, too, so Otto checked it all out and we signed up to be assimilated into the AT&T Borg. And that was (mostly) fine.

I don’t even remember what happened, then. We got a new modem and all new cable boxes, I remember. We’d had a cable modem and switched to DSL, I think. I vaguely recall a late-night viewing marathon predicated on the need to watch everything on the old DVR box before we traded it back in. Fine.

The new stuff was all fine. We’re now on DISH network for the television, which is fine 98% of the time. (The remaining 2% is composed of heavy thunderstorms which cause us to lose signal, and the fact that our DVR spontaneously records little informercials like “We DISH you a Merry Christmas!” every so often.)

But then, man. Then AT&T started running all of these commercials bragging about U-verse. It’s a world of possibilities! It slices, dices, and even makes beautiful julienned fries! It’s faster than every before! It’s super-sexy! ONLY LOSERS DON’T HAVE U-VERSE!

We periodically checked online to see if we were eligible for U-verse, and it always said it hadn’t come to our area yet, because we live in the sticks. Apparently you need some fancy fiber optic cables coming to your house for this stuff. Whatever. We gave up on U-verse.

But then we called AT&T because I kept seeing all of these promos advertising our current service for less than what we’re paying, and by “we” I mean “Otto” because I whined at him until he agreed to do it. All I wanted was for him to find out if we could get the promotional price on our current service. But by the time he was done, he’d signed us up for U-verse, which is now available on our street. Woohoo! We were told our new bundle—which was going to include way more stuff than our old one—would actually cost about $5 less per month than our current plan. Fine. Good.

So last week the guys came to get us all hooked up. They started by cutting off our current Internet about half an hour before they arrived, which was no problem at all because it’s not like I work from home on the Internet, or anything. Wait. (Hey, not a problem! That’s what cellular modems are for!)

Two very nice men showed up and started casing the property and then came to the door to tell me that they couldn’t figure out where our telephone access box was. They wanted me to tell them where to find it. When I said, “Ummm… on the outside of the house…?” they were not impressed. So—like the bright problem-solver that I am—I asked them to hang on a minute while I called my husband to ask him, because he tends to know these things.

Indeed, Otto knew that the mysterious hidden box is located under our deck. Problem solved! I reported my findings and Guy1 went off to deal with the phone. In no time at all I had no phone service. Because he was totally on top of making my life even better.

Meanwhile, Guy2 asks for a tour of the televisions in the house. I thought that was a little odd, but he was wearing little blue sanitized booties over his shoes (how considerate) so I figured it was okay. I showed him last year’s Christmas our HDTV in the family room, the little set in our bedroom, and the ancient set in the kid’s playroom. [Unrelated: I think I need to renamed that room now that the kids are older, particularly as mostly all they do in there is read or watch insipid programming I refuse to sully the big TV with. Maybe we could call it the rec room. Or the library. Or the OH MY GOD WHOSE DIRTY SOCKS ARE THESE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR? room.] Guy2 nodded and made a few notes in his little log book and then when we came back downstairs he said he had to tell me something. He looked very serious.

What follows is an exact transcript of what he said to me, as I heard it:

“Ma’am, the U-verse cabling system has four signal channels, and at optimum signal it can support three HD signals and one regular one, but it depends on the distance of the televisions sets from the access point, which in your case is up there on the street already at nearly the maximum distance from the house to where we would consider it a viable signal. Blah blah blah blah channels blah blah blah signal degradation blah blah blah might not get HD signal blah blah blah blah might not be able to record HD signal blah blah blah signal strength blah blah blah may represent a significantly decreased quality of service blah blah blah do you need to call your husband to ask him about it?”

To my credit, my head didn’t actually explode. A little gray matter may have dribbled out my ears, but thankfully I have a lot of hair as camouflage and I don’t think he noticed.

Once I stopped being annoyed, I was actually sort of amused that just because I had to call my husband to find out where the access box for the phone is (hi, do I ever USE the access box for the phone, EVER?), he seemed to assume that I wasn’t allowed to make independent decisions. Poor little me! I’m just gonna get back in the kitchen and bake my man a pie!

Anyway. I told him that no, I didn’t need to call my husband. But that he’d just told me what MIGHT be the case with signal strength, and should he, you know, TEST IT so that I would know what we were ACTUALLY dealing with before I made a decision? He agreed that that made sense.

Guy2 tromped back outside, ran about a zillion feet of cable around the property, and then came inside to report that, as he’d feared, they could only run the bare minimum of the Super Awesome U-verse Signal down to the house, meaning that we could watch one HD program at a time, never record in HD, and if we ever upgrade the other TVs, well, too bad so sad.

“Well,” I said, “that sounds like it would be kind of a dumb thing to do, don’t you think?”

“Yes ma’am, I’d have to agree,” he said, ever-polite but now somewhat glum.

“Soooo…” I was trying to work through this, mentally. “Is the new Internet still going to work…?” He assured me that the Internet works off either a different cable or the same cable but a different channel or maybe that his truck was filled with magical leprechauns who will hand-deliver the Internet signal over the rainbow. I don’t know. I wasn’t listening past the part where he assured me that it would still work. And also that it would be twice as fast as our old service.

And then, my friends, I totally broke the system: I told him we still wanted the Internet, but not the new TV or phone service.

“But… but…” I don’t think this had ever happened to him before. “The call is for the bundle, and it’s in the computer, and if I don’t complete it all I can’t go out on the rest of my calls, and… oh man, we’re gonna have to call corporate,” he finally finished.

“That’s fine,” I said. “I need to talk to someone to make sure the price is comparable on this, anyway.”

Guy2 called AT&T on his cell phone. I half-wished for the irony of his signal crapping out on the call, but he actually only had to wait on hold a few minutes and then we got an extremely helpful service rep who assured me we could have our new! faster! Internet for only $5 more a month, and then they set to work figuring out how to fix Guy2’s schedule so that he wouldn’t have to just live at our house for the rest of his life because the computer wouldn’t allow him to move on to his next service call.

We were only without phone service for about three hours (and mind you, we didn’t even switch service), and I eventually had to leave to meet friends for lunch—Otto came home to babysit the techs—and Otto tells me it only took them another few hours to get the Internet hooked up. You know, the whole thing was accomplished with the kind of grace and speed I’ve come to expect from corporate America.

Our new modem is larger than the dog, and comes with an associated battery pack so that it will continue to work in a power outage. That almost—almost!—makes up for the entire day it took to get the damn thing installed.

Plus, the fries it makes are truly stupendous.


  1. Jen

    Wow! You are extremely lucky. We went through the same hoops with AT&T just last week. Except, they cut our DSL at midnight before the installation. Then the installation guy said he couldn’t do the install and left… and wouldn’t come back. After MANY hours on the phone with AT&T they finally agreed to send someone out the next day to actually finish the installation. I’m incredibly infuriated with them, but yay for for new TV and internet.

  2. Amy

    You know what I loved the most about this post? That there is a Comcast advertisement on the side!!

    Also, I commend you for your restraint when the tech suggested that you might need to contact your husband!

  3. navhelowife

    Okay, so the little uverse sales guy came to see us on Saturday, promising the new, faster, better service we could get…now, as we have comcast cable, it probably can’t be any harder to figure out, and it only took THEM 4.5 hours to hook up cable TV. So we are thinking about it.
    I just have to run the numbers (translation: find the darn bills and figure it out) to see how much we pay currently – ATT for phone and Comcast for cable.
    You have to post and say if you see any difference in your service!

    [Ed. note: It’s definitely faster. I used to get a lot of spinning-beach-ball waiting during videos, and that’s gone. Yay!]

  4. KG

    I love you and your writing-
    thank you for taking your techno nightmares public so I could have a nice start to my week on this rainy Monday morning with only a mere 4 mouthfuls of Diet Dr.Pepper spewed upon my monitor because I kept laughing my head off….(the rest came out my nose)
    Absolutely HYSTERICAL
    thanks :D

  5. diane

    I hate dealing with the cable people. Part of the issue is that I get my cable internet through work – a really great deal, and via payroll deduction! But when it goes out and I have to call the cable company, it gets complicated, as I also personally have a very low level cable tv service from them.

    This spring, the internet went out. A nice lady came and “fixed” it (my appt was for 5 to 8 p.m., as I was on vacation and was meeting a friend at noon – which I told the appt taker. the repair tech called at 11:42 asking if she could come over then…uh, no, I am literally on my way out the door).

    Two days later, television went out (on a Sat. afternoon). Next available appt was TUESDAY. Signal mysteriously came back Sunday afternoon, so I called and cancelled appt…until everything went out again on Monday night, Called for an appt, and found out they NEVER CANCELLED THE FIRST SERVICE CALL. I mean, good for me, since I ended up needing it, but still.

    The new tech figured out that the line coming into the house was severely frayed out at the pole, and that is what has been causing the periodic outages over the last few years. He fixed it, and upgraded something in the house as well. I lost about nine channels that I’ve had all these years and shouldn’t have (he replaced the trap on the pole as well), but now everything works well.

    At some point, I want to install a wireless router for the internet…dreading that day, though I think I may be able to do that myself…

  6. navhelowife

    And goofy me – we have Charter, not comcast. We must have had comcast somewhere else :)

  7. Tracy B

    I love the statement–“the whole thing was accomplished with the kind of grace and speed I’ve come to expect from Corpirate America.” I completely and totally-100% agree with that. It’s sometimes more than I can bare, though. I have NO patience for it as I get older. That and traffic. Just give me a gun. (just kidding)

  8. Aimee

    He’s lucky you didn’t go into the kitchen and bake a pie SPECIALLY just so you could throw it in his face.

  9. Randi

    Oh dear Mir, as much as I wish I could have some sympathy for your experience, I simply can’t. You see, I can’t GET real internet. I work off of Hughes satellite internet, even though I work at home and am a photographer as well. So, you see, I would give almost ANYTHING (save one of my children – although they could take the hubby) to have real high speed! Even if it meant dealing with installers like that.

  10. Big Daddy

    Too funny. That sounds like every installation / service call I have ever had with a cable company. I am truly nervous because I’m supposed to have U-verse installed on Friday. I hope the installer guy doesn’t ask me where my phone access box is and then imply that I should go to the kitchen and bake a pie while my wife and the installers figure it out.

  11. k.mayer

    You’re a better woman than I.

  12. Chuck

    I have Uverse for internet and TV (I have no land line phones) and I like it quite well…but I don’t have an HDTV (yet.) However, I will say, it was a royal PITA getting it installed, perhaps because I live in an older apartment building, with old phone lines. As I understand it, the signal is only fiber optic until it gets to the phone line, and then it is transmitted over a regular copper phone line to your residence. I think. Anyhow, after three visits from the installer people, the first of which told me I wouldn’t be able to get Uverse TV, I finally got it all hooked up and have full-house DVR (although I hardly ever watch TV in my bedroom) and good internet with a free wireless modem. It truly is a lot better than what I had before (and cheaper) but oh my was it a pain to get it working. You might see if Verizon FIOS is available in your area, as that network is 100% fiber optic with no phone lines involved. I would probably switch to that if I had the chance, but it’s not available here.

  13. JennyM

    All that, plus add an ADT security system into the mix and conflicting reports on what type of phone line it requires.


  14. Flea

    Good night Irene. I hate dealing with the cable company. But am glad to hear Licorice has a new friend.

  15. Lucinda

    Bigger than the dog!!! I love it.

  16. Amy

    Ha! AT&T is not my friend, even though I still use them for my local phone service and DSL. When they upgraded my neighborhood to U-verse, they managed to cut my regular phone and internet in the process. My phone and internet were out for a full week before we could get schedules coordinated because initially they thought the fix could be made with out access to my residence. But no, a second service call with my presence was required to finish the job. This did not endear them to me, although I can’t figure out a less expensive plan to justify making a change.

  17. Karen

    Chuck — I have Verizon FIOS, and nothing was done to the interior phone lines. Only to the wiring coming into the house. One of the fun and games we’ve been experiencing in the last year is long and frequent power outages — not due to FIOS, just a very high volume of storms and sub-stations going out. That phone backup battery only lasts about 9 hours, and then you’ve lost phone service. After the last extended outage Verizon lost the phone service for our area after the power came back on, and we were without phone service another day.

    I don’t know if ATT does this, but Verizon tends to add ‘extras’ to our bill that we have not asked for and don’t need. They tried to add in their internet protection package (only $6 a month!) when we ordered FIOS, and we turned it down because we are an all-Mac all-the-time household. First bill included the package. I called (three hours to get through to the correct person), explained again that we didn’t want it, and couldn’t use it if we did as it only runs on Windows systems. Verizon does not go out of their way to support their Mac customers, and most of their offerings (Wi-Fi, anyone?) are not available for OS X. Charge credited and I’m told that the service will be removed from our bill.

    It took three bill cycles and 9 hours on the phone to finally get it removed for good.

    FIOS is great, and we have had very few problems with our internet or TV. But the customer “service” is some of the worst I have ever encountered.

  18. Juliep60

    OH. MY. GOD. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time! Thank you for this! I went through this exact scenario with AT&T almost two years ago when I switched from Comcast to U-Verse (which I actually do love), and I have not had any problems since the switch. However, it did take two guys with little blue paper booties an entire Saturday (and a couple return visits) to get my service up and running. I feel your pain.

  19. annette

    My i-phone is keeping me as an AT&T whore…

  20. Meg

    And then at the end, Guy2 had only installed 1/3 of the requested services for the Kamin house, and so he received a written warning from corporate.

  21. Headless Mom

    Precisely why I never switch. I hate char*ter but unless we go with big satellite company, we have no other choice. I may be sooo 1990’s but I don’t trust my internet to satellite yet.

  22. Brent

    In response to Randi: Surely satellite internet cannot be too bad. There are several people in my area that are still on dial-up. I would go for satellite internet any day over dial-up rather it be Hughesnet or WildBlue. I have to agree that this sounds like a very frustrating experience with At&t. I have internet with a local company called Windstream and have had a similar experience.

  23. Poppy

    We adore Uverse TV. We get all the movie channels for both coasts which means twice as many choices as Comcast had at any given hour. Our install was pretty easy, except we kept our Comcast internet, and basic cable along with it, since the bundled price was cheaper than the internet alone. This was a huge problem, although not for me. Uverse and Comcast are NOT compatible and within an hour we had five Comcast trucks in front of our house with a VERY irritated supervisor claiming our install took down Comcast for the whole neighborhood.

  24. Brandy

    We dropped our home phone service a few months ago and don’t miss it a bit. Especially the telemarketer calls and political cold calls. Bleh.
    AT&T is a necessary PITA for us. We have DSL with them and have had issues with our line for over a year. They tried to blame the wiring for our house, until we lost internet a few weeks ago for an entire week and a half. They then kept saying it was the modem and made us purchase a new one. Twice. (Luckily the second one was under warranty.) The real cause for loss of internet was up at the “Box” at the top of our neighborhood. A switch was bad and we were on it. We would have switched to Charter (cable internet), but they wanted to run a cable up the outside of my two story house, drill a hole through the attic wall and drill more holes to run the cable down through the walls to the first floor. Heck no. We’re hoping Verizon gets to us soon…., but we live WAY out in the middle of nowhere.

  25. Kate

    AND you survived. You should have made that extra clear at the end, since I know a few people who kicked it before the techs finished. True story. (Well, not really. But.)

    That part about them wearing little booties worried me a bit. You know, they do that at CRIME SCENES. Not to freak you out or anything. Except for maybe a little.

  26. Brigitte

    I’m just picturing Guy2 huddling in your crawlspace for warmth, with the feral kittens, living on scraps tossed down by Chickadee and Monkey.

  27. Frank

    So.. am I the only person who has ever had the following confluence of events: Com Company (AT&T) making promises about capability and pricing and keeping them, on time installation, 2 guys who knew what they were doing, an install that lasted less than 3 hours (and would have been under 2 if he didnt patiently answer my onslaught of questions). And no problems (KNOCK ON WOOD) that AT&T could control… line has been cut twice by caressly digging neighbors.
    Here’s hoping that, once its actually installed and working, that you like it. We do.

    PS: I know that I am extremely lucky. I get that. Just find it hard to believe that NOBODY else has as good an experience.. regardless of the carrier.

  28. Katie in MA

    Isn’t this all sorta like when things were all COMCASTIC! for you back in good ol’ New England? Funtimes.

  29. Elizabeth

    also @ Randi–

    I feel your pain! My husband works for a major internet company, and at his parents (had to stay there for months because of an illness), he could only get Hughesnet satellite… which had latency of SECONDS, and because of the security, he would be bounced off the network over and over and over again…. and have to go through all the complicated sign-on procedures multiple times a day…

    Oh, and then there was the time I showed my mother-in-law pictures on Facebook, and HN throttled our signal for 24 HOURS. Try explaining that to a manager in Silicon Valley!

    Finally, though, we have some normal sort of internet down there. His life is much much better.

    All that to say, if you call and check, there may be something new soon…

  30. elz

    We are U-Verse junkies. LOVE it. Our old cable was the same as yours- a storm would come and knock it out. Kind of a problem when you live in a hurricane prone area and need to track the weather. Or, um, watch Project Runway. Either way.

  31. joaaanna

    Most everyone I know in our area has U-Verse and loves it. Most everyone I know in our area had a HUGE hassle getting U-Verse set-up and installed. (It took some DAYS to be finished.) Most everyone I know in our area that has U-Verse and experienced the HUGE hassle still bears scars from the installation, but are very, VERY glad they have U-Verse. I hope you too are happy with the EVENTUAL results.

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