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My father's aging (10+ year old) DIRECTV satellite receiver finally died, so he called AT&T for a replacement. That was the easy part. The new receiver came within 3 days, and Dad installed it (correctly!). He then visited the url the device displayed on screen for remote activation. That link re-routed to a page that told him to call a telephone number, so he did.

The first customer service representative he spoke to tried to remotely activate the receiver and failed. Repeatedly. Dad ultimately had to abort this attempt for a pre-scheduled doctor's appointment. Afterwards, he had me try again in the hopes that I would be better able to communicate with the technician. The customer service representative I spoke to also tried to remotely activate the receiver and failed. Then she hung up on me. I don't think it was her fault. She was using AT&T phone service, after all.

At this point I stopped waiting for a customer service representative to suggest what I suspected: that the problem might be in the receiver's access card. The receiver was reporting an on-screen ID number of "0000-0000-0000", which happens to be the default number if there is no card installed. When I opened the panel, I did indeed discover that whoever had inserted the card before shipping had installed it upside down. The old receiver model took cards face down; the new model required face up. I pulled the card, turned it over, plugged everything back in, and called DIRECT a third time. This time, the customer service representative was able to activate the receiver on the first try.

The terms for the new receiver required the old receiver to be shipped to DIRECTV for recycling. Again, the url that DIRECTV provided for generating a label was outdated, redirecting to *another* page that returned a 404 page error. After a little creative Googling, I found an AT&T electronics recycling link that appears to do what the suggested link was supposed to have done. By this time I was not surprised when the website instructions (and generated label) made it clear the receiver was to be mailed via USPS but the downloaded file called it a "FedEx Shipping Label." AT&T seems to have a real problem with modernization.

Hopefully, Dad will get credit for returning his receiver as instructed, though given how hard it was to do almost everything else, I'm not holding out strong hope. I'm starting to feel like I'd have a better chance if I sent a telegraph to the company to tell them it was coming and personally handed the box to a Pony Express rider.

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We had some rough weather in Georgia last week as a front moved through, bringing with it high wind and rain. A tornado was even spotted in nearby Troup County. The next day I found this in the backyard:

Can you hear me now?

It looked like a power line, but my building still had power, phone, and cable. To be on the safe side, I did what they tell you to do: I called the local power company. After listening to a brief automated message recorded by Scott, a county resident who also does voiceover work on the local radio, I was transferred to Customer Service where a man with a gruff voice took my number and promised to investigate. The whole experience took 5 minutes. An hour later, he called to tell me that it wasn't a power line but a phone line. "Call AT&T," he said. So I did.

AT&T is a much, much richer company than my local power company, so of course its automated message had been programmed to speak digitally by someone with a weak grasp of the English language. No big surprise that the system was completely befuddled when I told it I needed to talk to Customer Service. Eventually, it gave up trying to understand me and said, "I'm sorry that I cannot understand you. Let me transfer you to Customer Service."

The very polite woman who eventually answered told me that my problem would be handled by the Technical Support division and promised to transfer me if I would please hold the line. This is when AT&T really started playing dirty. Their hold music isn't even Musak, but some mariachi music played on out-of-tune instruments, all recorded by a drunk session engineer using an Edison wax cylinder at the bottom of a well. This "music" was what I would use if I ever had the opportunity to torture a Guantanamo Bay detainee. After about five minutes even AT&T couldn't take it anymore, and I was transferred back to Customer Service.

This time I got a different lady who thanked me for calling AT&T and warned my that my call might be monitored. "I live in America. You learn to expect it," I said. I then explained (for the second time) that I had called because a wind storm had knocked an aerial line out of my house. She promised to pay more attention to me than the last representative had then asked me to wait while her computer called up my information. While we waited, she casually asked, "so, how's the weather out there in Georgia?" I took this as a bad sign.

Eventually, this woman in the Philippines put me on hold so that she could call Atlanta to set up an appointment with a technician. My call to an 800-number about a downed line in Coweta County, Georgia, had been routed to the Philippines so that someone in the Philippines could call Georgia. Does anybody else remember when long distance used to be expensive?

The next day, the technician came and took a very brief look a the line and said that it was a long disused trunk line. "Someone cut it and just left it attached to the pole," he said. "It must have blown down in the storm." I asked him what he could do about it. "I can tie it back up there." What happens the next time it blows down? "Just call AT&T and we'll come tie it back up." Thanks, but no thanks. Next time that line falls down, I'm leaving it there.

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To be continued...


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