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Summary. This document is part of a series on poor customer service.

The following story about AT&T wireless is offered by technology specialist and consumer defense advocate Gregory Johnson.

“Several years ago, I encouraged a family member to switch to AT&T Wireless because, according to AT&T advertising materials (then and now), they promise full coverage of our city (Iowa City).

Turns out, AT&T’s promise of coverage is false advertising. There are many dead zones and complete neighborhoods not covered by their existing towers.

Presumably, their legal team has determined that the cost to install sufficient towers to deliver on their promise of coverage is more expensive than the cost of dealing with dissatisfied customers and possible class action lawsuits.

After numerous phone calls over three years requesting adequate coverage, and many promises that the problems would be fixed, nothing was done.

Finally, this year (2010), AT&T came up with a solution. It’s a $150 MicroCell™ from Cisco for their customers to purchase (see photo at right). Rather than AT&T installing adequate cell towers, they are having their customers purchase small localized cell towers. To make these work, the customer needs to have high speed Internet and a 3G phone. Also, there’s a $20 a month fee for unlimited calls through the tower. Or, you can waive the $20 fee, but then the calls count against your cell plan minutes.

Frustrated by poor coverage in our area, I stopped in our local AT&T store to purchase one of these for the person who had switched to AT&T at my recommendation. The sales person in the store pointed out the posted advertisement stating that I could purchase the device for $150 and then get a $100 rebate if I would sign up for the $20 per month unlimited MicroCell™ calling plan. He said I could cancel the $20 service anytime. He even offered to complete the rebate form, and taped the barcode and rebate receipt to the form. I mailed in the rebate form and awaited my check.

Today, 17 December 2010, I was excited to get what looked like a check in the mail from AT&T. However, when I opened the envelope, it turned out to be a letter stating that I didn’t qualify for the rebate because my purchase was outside the rebate period.

I checked the rebate form and discovered that the rebate period began on 7 November 2010. My purchase was made on 6 November 2010.

Here’s what makes this experience frustrating:

  1. The sales person was the one who suggested the rebate and promised the $100 discount. They should have known that the rebate didn’t go into effect until the following day.
  2. The rebate forms were on the counter at the store.
  3. The rebate was represented, not as a limited time sale, but as a customer courtesy and recognition that AT&T had not delivered on their promise of coverage. The discount was in exchange for trying out their $20 per month unlimited calling, not because of a short-term sale.
  4. I was purchasing the microcell because of a failing in their service.

I called AT&T this evening about the above incident and was told they can’t do anything about it because AT&T doesn’t have any records of what happens in the stores. I was told I would need to call their rebate center and request to have the issue escalated to someone who could help me.

I called a second time and requested that the $20 per month service be cancelled, and asked that the fee be credited back, and was told that it couldn’t be credited back. Eventually, after negotiations, I was able to get a $25 customer satisfaction credit applied to my bill. Although AT&T has some very pleasant and generous employees, their larger bureaucracy results in unfair and possibly illegal business practices.” ~ Gregory Johnson

Update – 3 February 2011. Below is an update by Gregory Johnson of the Consumer Defense Resource Group on the AT&T Rebate issue.

I was a bit frustrated that AT&T couldn’t correct for their rebate error over the phone. They can see on their records that I’d purchased and began using a new MicroCell™. I didn’t want to make a special trip to the AT&T store to correct a problem that they had created. So, last evening when I knew I would be in the area anyway, I stopped in the store and talked to a sales person. I brought my iPad with scanned PDF copies of my receipt, rebate form, and the letter from AT&T. The sales person said he couldn’t accept a scanned PDF copy of the letter from AT&T. He would need a printed copy of the letter. I explained that I’d already wasted a lot of time trying to correct this. I asked if I could email it to him and have him print it. He reluctantly agreed. Once printed, he told me that he would give it to his manager and a credit would be issued in a month or two.

This has been a long ordeal. I’m looking forward to getting my $100 credit and moving on.

On a positive note, the AT&T MicroCell™ device does everything it promises to. It does make it possible to get a strong signal in poor reception areas. It was fairly easy to setup and activate. It’s too bad that AT&T customers are paying for the device and the cost of high-speed Internet service required to make it work, but at least they now have an option to get a better signal.

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Document History. This document was first posted on 20101218sa0029. It was updated on 20110204fr1135.

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