“The Friction Always Works to the Benefit of the Company”

That is what somebody told me after I told him about an experience I had with AT&T. It fits.

I wanted to upgrade our backup AT&T DSL line, so that I could cancel our unreliable Comcast cable Internet service. The AT&T rep said that DSL is outmoded, that what I wanted was U-Verse, which has many more features and is cheaper than DSL. I was about to sign up, but I was googling around while talking to him and started to realize that U-Verse means replacing our old-style, robust, power-outage-resistant landline phone service with some kind of VOIP. This would be unacceptable. So I told the AT&T guy to cancel our U-Verse order until I could learn more.

Since then we’ve gotten three calls from AT&T seeking to schedule our U-Verse installation. Telling them that we didn’t order U-Verse and were slammed by their sales rep results in punishment by being put on hold for large fractions of an hour while the clueless AT&T people try to find out what’s going on. We may not know for sure until we see our next phone bill.

It strongly appears that AT&T’s system is set up with bad incentives. I would bet that the sales rep gets compensated based on how many U-Verse accounts he opens, and that he isn’t penalized for having a high ratio of cancellations. So it’s probably in his interest to open as many new accounts as he can. And it’s in AT&T’s interest to look the other way if he signs people up who don’t really want it. They can always cancel later, right? Since some of them won’t cancel, everyone on the AT&T side comes out ahead from this strategy. It’s like when companies require customers to mail in rebate forms in order to get a discount. To the extent possible, I try to avoid companies that operate like this.

12 thoughts on ““The Friction Always Works to the Benefit of the Company””

  1. I don’t quite understand why they would have wanted to take out your land line telephones. It’s not like they have to spend a lot of money on them anymore.

    We haven’t got uverse yet. My understanding is that it is not a lot different than cable. But, I could be wrong.

    My daughter lives in NYC. There the phone company (Verizon) alternative to cable is FIOS, which is wicked fast. She was thinking of taking the FIOS and ditching cable. POTS makes no difference to her. She, like most millennials, lives on her cell phone and has never had a land line.

    Like most old farts, I have 4 land lines and I don’t want to give them up. They are like some enormous primitive reptile. You can’t kill them. Last summer we had a big storm that knocked over the utility poles on our street. 3 of our 4 phone lines kept working even though the poles and wire were lying on the ground.

    The kids OTOH are completely out of the land line world.

  2. I’d like to get away from landlines, but every few years the power goes down for days after a hurricane and the landlines are the only communication system that works. Maybe that’s no longer true or won’t be true soon but I’ll believe things have changed when I see it. Uverse/cable/cell service all compete heavily on price. My guess is that these systems still have little in the way of backup-power capacity.

  3. I think in my neighborhood the U-Verse service is via fiber optic cable. Don’t know if that makes them any more reliable than cable. When I had Warner cable I lost service every time there was a storm. My issue with U-Verse is the hard sell tactics, and AT&T in general. In the last 15 years AT&T bought my cell phone provider and my land line provider. They attempted to buy my satellite service. Every time AT&T bought one of my services the price went up, and the marketing games started. They sneak in extra charges on my land line / dsl bill. I’ve switched my cell service and will probably be switching my dsl service just to get away from them.

  4. I’m satisfied with our Comcast internet service here–it’s fast, robust, and the phone help is actually helpful. I’m less enamored of their cable TV service. We’ve had it for 2 1/2 years, and we’ve twice had rates hiked and channels removed. I think it’s because they only really make money off of sports, primetime shows, porn and movies, so there’s little incentive to serve marginal customers like me, who want science, history and nature docos (and not the paranormal BS, either).

  5. If you are getting slammed, threaten to talk to your state’s secretary of state. This is the official that can pull their business license if they don’t behave and force them to stop operating in the state. You would be surprised how fast that threat changes your situation for the better. If you want to be prepared, consult to find out what is or is not legal in your state. It does tend to vary and multi-state businesses sometimes adopt policies that skirt or even violate state protections.

  6. }}} It’s like when companies require customers to mail in rebate forms in order to get a discount.

    Yeah, I usually ignore rebates when considering the price of something — especially in price comparison shopping.

    Most of the time they pull some BS with the fine print to make an excuse to deny you the rebate. You can almost always override this, but not without spending like 2-3 hours of your time, so it better be one hell of a rebate to justify it.

  7. I despise AT&T. There are few companies more inept at service than they are, or have a worse attitude towards their customers.

    How the hell they still manage to exist after 30 years of non-monopoly business is beyond me… because they STILL act like they are a monopoly.

    Don’t forget that Dilbert was originally inspired by Scott Adams’ experience as a Cali AT&T employee.

  8. I don’t know anything about U-Verse so I can’t comment on that. Landline infrastructure for POTS is something AT&T would love to get people away from. Keeping that old network equipment alive (and on the books) is very expensive – at least from an accounting POV.

    Whether or not fiber optic will be more reliable than old twisted pair copper depends on whether it is buried or run on poles. Broken glass doesn’t work any better than broken copper when it comes to carrying signal and is a bit trickier to repair. I’ve noticed that each time we get a storm, be it hurricane or snow/ice, that takes down trees and power and phone lines, MANY phone wires just lie there coiled up for weeks on end. They are no longer connected to phones.

    Regarding VOIP. With Sandy (as an example) I lost all wires coming from the road to my home. A very large broken branch took them down. I would not have had landline even if I hadn’t gotten rid of it. The entire area lost power (for 6 days). But some neighbors still had cable service and, if they had a generator they could make VOIP calls and watch TV.

    Cable is powered similarly to landline. If the necessary wiring routing to your house is intact it will carry the necessary power. The difference is that an old fashioned landline phone only needs the power coming from the twisted pair. Quite a few people who think they are safe with landlines have long since gotten rid of their simple old phones and replaced them with wireless phones. Now they have a powered base station that, while it plugs into the landline, needs electricity to operate.

    I keep my cable modem on a small UPS so that should power go out and the cable wire is intact I can use the VOIP phone for a short time until the weather clears enough to get the little genset going.

    But the wires all run along the same poles and if enough of them get whacked, or your service lines get whacked, your done.

    As an example of someone who thought he was fully prepared but found out there are always suprises… Following Irene a friend’s next door neighbor had a whole house, natural gas powered backup generator installed. He thought he was ready for Sandy. But Sandy blew down an oak and the oak fell right onto his shiny new generator and flattened it. Since it was under full service contract and insured it was replaced and running before his area had power restored but even so he was out for a few days.

    When Murphy wants your arse Murphy gets your arse.

  9. Thanks for the explanations.

    My observation is that cell service fails first, then Comcast, then landline. I don’t know what happens with Uverse.

    Things may be different elsewhere.

  10. A SAT phone will work anywhere under any conditions as long as it has a charge and can see the sky.

    Apart from that, you are going to be down once in a while.

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