Thursday, March 17, 2011

North County San Diego's Dirty Little Secret -- Held Hostage By AT&T

First, let me preface this post with a disclaimer -- I understand that the frustrations expressed in this post are insignificant in the scheme of life; and in the scheme of very real basic life issues that many face (and are now facing)). So, please bear with me as I write this -- because I understand this -- yet want to express some surprising realities relating to basic communications in this day and age.

My family and I live in a nice little community in North County San Diego (the area north of La Jolla). Peaceful, bucolic ... and completely at the mercy of AT&T for broadband. In this area, there are no cable companies; there is no competition period. The only way to get home broadband and wired telephone service is AT&T. There are no other options. Period. (For TV service, a satellite provider is the only option.)

To be clear, this post is not about AT&T's mobile service -- which is spotty at best around these parts. But, spotty is amazing compared with what our community is facing from AT&T in terms of basic Internet connectivity and wired phone service.

Which is -- namely -- NO SERVICE on an ongoing basis. Literally no service. Literally phone lines being dead. Literally no Internet service/DSL signal for days (and even when "working," our community's Internet service cannot be called "broadband" in any sense of the word -- it is slow slow slow DSL; but, that's all we got).

Let's take wired phone service first because that impacts basic safety. We have had recent periods of more than two weeks (yes, sad but true) where our phone lines have simply been out -- dead -- no dial tone whatsoever. What does that mean? No 911 among other things. And, what has been AT&T's response and constant refrain been to these disturbing realities? "We will get a service technician out there as soon as we can." A few months back, they conceded that it would take 2 weeks to even get anyone out to look at the phone line because they had experienced significant outages throughout the state. Think about that? No 911 and other basic phone services for a period of over two weeks! Now, I understand outages -- but 2 weeks? And continuing rolling outages since that period of time? We have had "technicians" out time and time again, but this has been cold comfort -- quick fixes that don't fix anything in the long-term. And, to add insult to injury (I am trying not to be overly dramatic here), AT&T continues to bill us throughout this period for having the privilege of being a customer with NO service whatsoever.

Now let's take AT&T's DSL service in our community. As I indicate above, it works at a snail's pace at best -- and there are no options to upgrade to faster Internet (trust me, I have tried and would be willing to pay!). This means that essentially we have no options in this community to use Netflix or other OTT media services. But, more than that, it means constant frustration and a frequent inability to be productive for basic Internet services -- and that's when it "works"!

Which it frequently doesn't. I am enduring yet another extended period of NO internet access whatsoever right now -- and have been for several days. Forget productivity; forget any kind of connectivity. There simply is no signal coming to our modem. Of course I immediately called AT&T customer support (again) upon the latest incident. But, do you know what they tell me? They can't write a "trouble ticket" to fix our DSL until a separate AT&T department first fixes the fixed phone line (which has been dead)! In other words, AT&T won't even consider the DSL service to be down -- and write a trouble ticket -- until the fixed phone line group resolves its own separate trouble ticket. Talk about a morass -- it doesn't get more customer UN-friendly than that. And, once again, the coup de gras -- AT&T continues to bill me at my full DSL rates (and expects me to pay) even though I have no service.

So, what's a person to do under these circumstances (hey, I run a technology company and can't really stomach no Internet connectivity at home)? Run ... not walk ... to the Verizon store, that's what. Run to Verizon for their safety net -- i.e., a wireless broadband card (which is what I am using now to write this post). And, finally, I get Internet service that finally works -- just works -- which is all I and others want.

Speaking of others. My family and I thought we were alone with our frustrations and experiences with AT&T DSL and wired phone service. But, yesterday, I learned that we are not. Others are facing the precise same issues -- periods of absolutely dead phone service; and dead Internet connectivity. There is no rhyme or reason to these outages -- they just happen, over and over again. And, no one from AT&T has been able to fix them (that is, when a technician finally does respond and attempt to make those fixes). So, basic communications -- or the lack thereof -- is one of North County San Diego's dirty little secrets. Amazingly, while I have heard much frustration, I have seen little real attention focused on the issue. People, I believe, are simply too tired and have thrown up their hands (and have likely purchased their own Verizon wireless broadband cards).

This post is a small attempt to change that -- and bring real visibility to the issue.

Thanks for putting up with my rant ...