Understanding Your Phone Bill: the Softer Side of ATT

ATT & me -- we've got history

Who doesn't love Ma Bell -- or whatever the hell she's calling herself these days? The phone company has always played an important role in my life. Not only does it supply me with local, long distance and Internet service, it provides a safe and legal place to vent my anger.

Every month when that ATT bill comes in I search for reasons to call and kvetch. Most months, I find something. Hubby laughs at me, rightly pointing out that spending 1/2 hour on the phone trying to save $5 actually costs us money. Oh right! Sometimes in my excitement I forget that I am self-employed and (at least theoretically) billing out my time at $75 an hour.

I respond: "I know, Honey. But you can't put a price on vindication."

However, ladies and gentlemen, today I am here to tell you that you can put a price on vindication. Today vindication is worth $6.84 -- and I am triumphant!

This goes both for the consumer and the customer service rep
This goes both for the consumer and the customer service rep

The beginning of outrage

Yesterday (July 2) I sat down and paid bills. This included my ATT phone bill. Duly noting that the due date was June 25th and it was considered "late after June 28th" I went ahead and paid the late amount.

Now I am not a mathematician. I am sure someone will be able to extrapolate the real or compound interest payment for me -- not that I really want to know.

If you pay your ATT bill a mere three days late, they charge you the equivalent of 6% extra.

I suppose they intend it as an incentive to pay timely. However, I don't need to tell anyone reading this that times are tough and paying every bill every month on time is damned near  impossible. I've never been one for "creative accounting" but have become somewhat adept at juggling payables over the past several months.

But rather than have ATT add yet another late fee to my next bill, I sucked it up and added $3.57 to my payment. I stuck it in an envelope, stamped it, and dropped it in the box. Buh-bye $57.12. Sigh.

A slap in the face .. or ear ... or rear

So this morning, July 3, I open my mail and there's a "Disconnection Notice" from ATT. It informs me that my account is past due in the amount of $53.55. The notice is dated July 1.

Ok, so let me get this straight. ATT considers the bill "late" as of June 28th and three days later it's turn the service off time?

This seems more than a bit unfriendly. I briefly wonder what the hell other ATT customers are doing about this? I pity the customer already struggling to pay the bill who misses the July 7 deadline and actually has their phone service temporarily disconnected.

You see, if they have to disconnect your service, even "temporarily", you will have to pay:

1. A $35 security deposit, plus

2. All outstanding charges for your basic service before your telephone service will be reinstated.

3. In addition, a reconnection fee of $25 per line will also apply.

Please, oh please don't disconnect my service!

I managed to contain my anger long enough to formulate a strategy. I have found that I get a better result when complaining to customer service people if I modulate my voice and refrain from screeching, swearing or threatening (the person on the other end of the phone. Actually, threatening to take my business elsewhere seems to work pretty well).

I dialed the "plans and services" 800 number and patiently waded through the automated menu. Once I got a live agent on the phone, I calmly informed her my payment of $57.12 was on its way. This being a holiday weekend, I could not be certain whether the payment would hit their desk by the 7th. The agent made a note in my file not to disconnect my phone.

Hooray! Saved by Ma Bell!

Energized by this victory (pyrrhic as I knew it to be) I asked to speak to a supervisor.

The setup

You see, the disconnection notice was just the catalyst I needed to let ATT have it right between the ringtones. I had a righteous complaint ,and someone over there was going to hear me out, dammit! Sorry, I had to get that out before actually talking to ATT.

*Deep breath.*

Once connected to the ATT supervisor I turned on the sweetness. I said I was following up on the phone service I had transferred for my mother-in-law at the end of June. This was true.

I explained that I had placed the order on June 19th but the soonest they said they could come out was the 25th. Ok, we accepted that and planned our day on the 25th to sit at home waiting for the big turn-on. 

But the service did not get turned on on the 25th. Or the 26th. It didn't get turned on until end of day on Saturday, June 27th.

I asked if my mother-in-law could get a credit for the days when her service was supposed to be on, but wasn't.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander

So far the supervisor was with me. She readily agreed my mother-in-law deserved a credit. That amount turned out to be $3.17. Hey. $3.17 for two days without service seemed reasonable to me.

Now comes the amazing part.

Emboldened by scoring $3.17 for my mother-in-law, I said to the supervisor, "You know, I am trying to understand something here. It's July 3rd and I just received a disconnection notice from ATT on my home phone service. What exactly is your policy? The bill says it's late after June 28th. I put a check in the mail yesterday and paid the late fee. This seems awfully soon to be threatening disconnection, don't you think?"

Then I continued, "And not for anything, but why is it ok for ATT to be three days late turning on my 88-year-old mother-in-law's service, but if I'm 3 days late paying my bill, you threaten to turn my service off? That doesn't seem very fair to me."

To my complete and utter surprise, the supervisor agreed with me! She said, "You're right. It's not fair."

If you try sometimes... you do get satisfaction

Buy me a latte and call me happy

Without even asking for it, the supervisor volunteered to reverse my $3.57 late fee. So that's $3.17 for my mother-in-law and an additional $3.57 for me, for a total of $6.84.

It's a small amount, sure. But the principle is huge.

Until next month, this is Mighty Mom, consumer zealot, signing off.

I'm on my way to Starbucks to spend my ATT windfall:-).

Customer Service Success Stories

Have you had a favorable outcome with a customer service interaction?

  • Yes -- recently
  • Yes -- but it's been a long time
  • No -- never
  • I don't even bother. Makes me too mad.
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Comments 20 comments

Triplet Mom profile image

Triplet Mom 7 years ago from West Coast

MM - Having had worked for the Ma Bell company I have to say way to stick it to her!! I have been seeing lately that many companies are becoming more strict and severe with their policies. Its about time someone fights back. Go get em!!


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Damn straight, TM! Join me for a latte?! :-)!!!


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

I've always been one to call and question things and 9 times out of 10, I get either a reversal or a reduction in fees.  Just this week alone, I saved $161.90 in fees. 

Years ago we were charged almost $700 to run electricity from the nearest point to our new house.  A couple of years later a big apartment complex was coming in nearby and they were tapped in to our pole by the electric company.  I called the electric company at 4:45 pm on a Friday, just knowing I wouldn't catch someone, but I did.  I explained that I didn't think it was fair for them to come in and just tap onto what I had to pay $700 for.  I know the guy thought he was pretty smart when he said this, but he said, "well ma'am, we no longer charge for that, and if you could provide a receipt, we'll reimburse you for that".  HA!  I have every receipt.  I got my $700 back.  :)

I'm now teaching my mother how to effectively call and question things.  The trick is to be sweet but persistent.  Getting angry and upset makes them dig in their heels.

Great hub, MM, glad you got your money!


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Wow, KCC! You are a true pro!! You're absolutely right. Sweet but persistent definitely wins over angry.

I should start keeping track of the fee reversals and stuff I am able to "demand." Not that I am competing with you or anything:-).


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

I love this hub. It's so funny and so damn true. I too have had lots of ups and downs with the phone company.

I especially enjoyed the following remark and will have to remember to use it:

" ...you can't put a price on vindication."


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Thanks, Alekhouse. You are more than welcome to use that line anytime it is appropriate for you! Good luck in your ongoing travails with the phone company. One small victory for MM, one giant victory for all phone company customers...


Paper Moon profile image

Paper Moon 7 years ago from In the clouds

My satisfaction with AT&T was when I told them I would just use my cell phone. "Welcome to the modern age". Mind you I went through 6 cell phone companies before I found a good one.

The dissconect trick gets me PO'ed. Cable and big banks seem to be the worst of all corprate abusers. Good for you! :D


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi Paper Moon. Yes, I've contemplated that as well. I don't know why I don't just dump the land line entirely.

But your comment about trying 6 cell phone companies before you found a good one. LOL. I didn' think there even WERE 6 cell phone companies. Let's see how many I can name: ATT (formerly Cingular), T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, Metro PCS. What am I missing???

But you reminded me. I actually have a cell phone company rant to write about! Thanks!


kiran8 profile image

kiran8 7 years ago from Mangalore, India

Liked this a lot, Enjoyable read ! things are a lot different here in India. It is far more frustrating when you have a govt run connection, but the private ones are far more efficient and do not give you reason for any complaints, but the difference in cost is enormous...


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

I'm waiting now to meet with the county appraisal office. They have been increasing the appraisal on my land and house every year and since it's been reasonable and still with the ballpark of what I thought it was worth, I haven't complained. However, THIS year they went up 38% on the house and 100% on the land for an overall 48% increase! No way! I gathered some stats and have filed a protest. Wish me luck!


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi Kiran8, Thanks for reading. Some days I'm not sure which is worse, government run programs or privately run companies. Both have their frustrations.

KCC -- No f-ing way. That is, as many people here would say, "rediculous" (I would call it ridiculous). Are they really that hard up for cash? That's probably what's going on. Still -- I can't imagine that property values where you live have increased that much in this economy. They must be out of their frigging minds.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

That's my contention as well. In this economy, how in the world could my house and land be worth 48% this year than last? They know if they increase everyone, probably only 10% will protest. Probably everyone that protests will be lowered, but they'll still be way ahead overall. At least that's my hope!


Paper Moon profile image

Paper Moon 7 years ago from In the clouds

Cellular One and US Cellular

are a few current ones. I cant remember the names of a few that I have used, but they were either bought out and or went belly up.

I am very happy with my new company. No bull, no changing the billing cycle date to catch you unaware, no extra tax here and there, just one price every month. With Cingular my bill was different every month though I never went over my minutes.


pgrundy 7 years ago

Oh God MM, as you know, this is my biggest peave right now, this kind of crap. You say you bill out your time at $75 per hour. By any standard it was more expensive for you to get that $3.17 back from them than to just let it go. That's what they (and many other big corporations) are counting on. If I have to call AT&T or my cable provider I can count on at least half an hour waiting in queue, being dissed by a CSR whose job it is to blow me off in 3 minutes, and so on and so forth, and the end result is typically that my blood pressure is up 50 points and I still have the problem I started with. I'm glad you got your money back, but the larger issue is, what ever happened to caring about customers and providing actual services and products at a fair price? Everything seems to be a shakedown these days. I'm so sick of it. Great hub. :)


GiftedGrandma profile image

GiftedGrandma 7 years ago from USA

We got rid of our landline and went with MagicJack, it is through the computer..you need cable or dsl for it work. Cost $19.95 year(yes a year). We also have ATT for cell the cheapest plan they have..


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Wow, GG. That is such a wise decision. We do have dsl and could probably get MagicJack also. I have seen the ads on TV. Thanks for commenting. MM


AnnoyedCapitalist 5 years ago

You are positively annoying. $7.00? that was worth $7.00, "sticking it to the man"? congratulations on being dramatic.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 5 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Thank you, AnnoyedCapitalist for catching my point so well. I appreciate your comment. MM


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jeyatharsini24 profile image

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