Yesterday afternoon, I suddenly found myself without internet service here at home. I’d been online a good bit of the day, writing and reading without any difficulty. Then, at about 5:16pm, pages stopped loading. Email stopped coming in. Errors began popping up, advising that this page or that page was not responding.
I checked the little modem supplied to me by the New AT&T, which took over Bellsouth, and noticed that the internet light was red instead of green.
I unplugged the modem, waited about ten seconds, and plugged it back in, knowing that if I call them, this is one of the first pieces of advice their tech support people would offer. (In TV, we call the act of turning something off and then back on again the “primary engineering solution” because that’s generally the first thing that’s tried, no matter what the problem actually is.) In this case, the internet was still out.
So I called the tech support line and after entering my telephone number, I received a recorded message that my account had been “referred to billing which was closed for the day.” I soon learned that billing on Saturday closes at 5:30pm, and they suspended my internet service at 5:16pm. They’re not open on Sunday, so Monday morning would be my first opportunity to find out what was wrong.
But if you know me, then you know that I’m not the kind to sit back and wait patiently until Monday.
The other odd thing is that back in July, I signed up for the New AT&T’s convenient auto-draft service, which means that each month, when my bill is due, they just automatically deduct it from my checking account. That way there’s never a late payment and it’s one less thing I have to worry about.
Except for last month, when they suddenly suspended my telephone service — that time it was just the phone, the internet worked fine — for “non-payment.” I called, pointed out that I had already signed up for the auto-draft service, and was told that the auto-draft service takes more than a month to begin, so that my payment that should have been auto-drafted wasn’t. “It would have been nice,” I suggested, “if somewhere on the confirmation email that welcomed me to the auto-draft program, it pointed out this little delay.” The operator agreed and apologized. She then assured me that the September payment, which she said was due on September 10th, would be auto-drafted and there would be no problem.
So here I was, on September 6th, (which most of us would likely agree occurs before September 10th has a chance to roll around), with no internet service and the accusation that I was somehow a deliquent.
I called the tech support number back and when it asked for my phone number, I said, “Agent.” This eventually got me to a human being, albeit a human being with a thick foreign accent that made the conversation more difficult. This person, after suggesting several tricks to try to get the internet service back up, finally looked up my account and told me it was a billing issue. I explained the whole auto-draft thing and she said that there was no way she could access that information with my account since she was tech support only.
I then asked the big question, one that they’re probably sorry I asked: “If I drive myself to my office, go online there, and pay whatever amount the New AT&T seems to think is past due, will that get my service restored automatically?”
She told me she couldn’t promise that, but that it was a possibility.
So I drove to work, signed on to the New AT&T’s convenient online account management system, and was met with the following piece of information:
Due Date: September 10
Current Balance: $0.00
I actually printed out that page before I left work, and went back home to get back on the phone with tech support. Needless to say, I was livid. Livid because I knew I didn’t have a past-due balance, livid because I had taken the step two months ago of signing up for auto-pay so that there was no way a past-due balance was even possible, and livid because they cut my service while accusing me of not paying a zero balance that isn’t even due for another four days!
And the irony that since they now have my checking account number, and can now auto-draft my payment when it is due, and could therefore have automatically drafted whatever they thought was past due without cutting my service, was not lost on me, either.
I immediately asked for a supervisor this time around, explained the problem, read off the information from the printout, and said that waiting until Monday for the correction of a screw-up that was clearly not my fault was thorougly unacceptable. The supervisor promised to send an emergency email dispatch to a billing manager, and that I should expect a courtesy call back between now and Monday morning.
Within the hour, my internet service suddenly, magically, inexplicably came back on. The little red light became green again, like the dawn of a new day. And as for the couresty call, it has yet to occur.
No explanation. No apology. Nothing.
I’m sure they’ll blame some random computer glitch. I’m sure it won’t be anyone’s fault. But I think they owe me the courtesy of that much at the very least. And I’m sure they’re going to like it if I have to be the one to make the first contact on Monday morning.