Bundling Blues

I thought no company could be more unresponsive, more difficult to deal, with than AT&T – until I met their new partner, Direct TV. This will truly be a marriage made in heaven - or hell - for companies that want to drive their customers stark raving mad.


Let me start at the beginning. I had a contract with AT&T for bundling. I was to get my internet connection, my telephone service and my television all for $145 a month.

That is what the charming young lady who came to my door promised. Sounded good so I signed up.


Well, the first month my bill was $144.16. Close enough. But after that it was always $156 and change – or more. Finally, in July, 2014 the bill was for $167.15. And I could find nothing on the bill to explain the increase.


I decided, enough is enough. Not only have they reneged on the promise of $145 a month, but I also have an order receipt calling for my bill to be $125 a month – a lot less than $167.15.


I decided to shop around. But first I called AT&T to try to find out why the increases.

Of course, I get connected to the Philippines. So I ask to speak to someone in America.

They can't seem to do that. I complain to these folks that we have high unemployment here, that even college graduates can't find jobs. Obviously, that is not their concern.

So after long waits, transfers, music, etc. a guy comes on to explain. He starts off with 4 cents a month increase for this, 3 cents for that, etc. I couldn't listen anymore and hung up in disgust.


After a lot of shopping, with a few disconnects, lots of music while I am told the wait will be about 3 minutes (usually it turns out to be more like 10 or even15 minutes)

I finally get to talk to a real person with DIRECT TV, this one, a friendly sounding lady in Ohio. I told her I had agreed to a deal with DISH for $104 a month. She assured me she could do better. She would get me the $34.95 package from the advertisement DIRECT had sent for $94. That would include a DVR and a second receiver, plus internet hookup with AT&T. Great! Sign me up.


But wait, she has to transfer me to the internet department. So after a fairly long wait I get to talk to another lady who asks all the same questions the first one had asked. Then she adds it all up and tells me my monthly bill will be $104. We argue a lot. She tells me something about it can't happen because of AT&T. Which seems strange since I currently have AT&T for my internet connection. Finally, I tell her that I was promised $94 a month and if I was not getting it, cancel the whole thing and I would resume shopping. So, she says okay, I will get the $94 monthly rate.


That will be for my television and internet connection. I had decided to switch to Vonage for my telephone. That would be $16 a month compared to the $45 a month AT&T was charging.


Probably the most frustrating part of all of this was that I could not get anyone from

AT&T to talk to me on the telephone. They are a phone company for God's sake!

At the time of all this, I am suffering from phenomena and was on oxygen. So I call what turns out to be a call central – or whatever. I start off by telling them about being on oxygen and begging them to take down my telephone number and call me back if we get disconnected (which had happened a few times). But they tell me no, they only take calls, they can't call me back. And they can't refer my number to someone else to call me back. This is not only a phone company, it is the biggest one, and one of the biggest companies in America – but they won't call back a customer who is having trouble getting them to provide an internet connection – even a sick customer. Unbelievable!


So now I resort to trying to get what I need from the internet – typing questions and getting answers typed back.. I first get a guy named Steven, who asks a number of questions, like my first car, my mother's maiden name, etc. And I have to answer all of this. This is a time consuming project because Stevan and I have to type on the questions and answers. After what seemed like a long time,he tells me has to transfer to someone else. Now Kate comes on, and types to me all the same questions I just answered for Steven. Again, this is a telephone company that

forces a customer to a lengthy, time consuming ordeal rather than just talking to me on the telephone. It makes me crazy!


So finally, finally, I am going to get my internet connection, which I need before the

Vonage telephone service can begin. The technician is to come to my home on a Saturday, about a week after all these struggles started. But no, for some reason they postpone it till the following Tuesday. So, no telephone service for several days.

Alas, the guy who comes on Tuesday can't solve the problem. The box outside is broken, or something. So another guy comes on Wednesday. He struggles with faulty equipment, but eventually gets the telephone going.


Now, we have to send back to AT&T the old modem and equipment. This, instead of just using the AT&T modem and service we had had for a few years. Go figure.


Are my troubles with AT&T over? Maybe. But maybe they are going to want me to pay because I canceled my contract before the 24 month period was over. Since they increased my bill each month, as I have already discussed, I do not intend to pay them.

If they take me to court, I will fight them with the old invoices and the $125 a month

receipt that I have. If they want to ruin my credit – which as been perfect since 1948 -

let them. I am 80 years old and don't plan to buy anything on credit for the rest of my life anyway.


But if my problems with AT&T are over, they are just starting with their new partner, DIRECT TV. I have made several telephone requests and at least three attempts to get a copy of a contract. I just want something in writing that says what package I am getting and that it will be for $94 a month - as I was promised more than once – and for what period of time – for when to when. In response, they keep sending the same thing – an agreement that has 3 or 4 pages of legal mumbo jumbo about cancellations, program changes, more receivers – on and on – but never the details of our agreement.


So now I have filed a complaint with the FCC. I wonder if that will do any good.


The bottom line is what they call “bundling” may be convenient with just one bill to pay, but it can also be a nightmare. And it is not going to get better because mergers will mean less competition, and that is not good for consumers. Not only is AT&T grabbing up DIRECT TV, but Rupert Murdoch and Fox want to acquire Time Warner. And Comcast is looking to merge with somebody.


The only player in all of this who was not too difficult to work with was Vonage.

But that did not come out perfectly either. We had trouble getting their phone service o work - possibly because AT&T was still screwing around and had not got the internet connection going. Anyway, Vonage sends an independent contractor our to help us – for a charge on our first bill of $40. He does not know what to do and suggests maybe we need to tear into our wall and change the wiring. A real genius. And he tells us that our current extensions won't work and we must go out and buy a set of wireless phones. They cost us $70, so with the $40 for his mostly worthless time, we are now out $110. So, if we are saving $30 a month from paying $45 a month to AT&T for our phone service, it will take almost 4 months to start saving money.


So, if you want to change phone companies or internet connections, or television deals, you may want to think twice. And if you are just starting with bundling, all I can say is good luck.


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