A word of warning to AT&T SW wireline subscribers
A word of warning to AT&T SW wireline subscribers I work for the AT&T SW territory and West territory small business call center. The prices I'm going to describe here are relevant to AT&T's small business product portfolio, but the policy may not be specific to that portion of the customer base:
AT&T is now actively trying to remove as much of it's 100% copper-based wireline services from service as it can, as fast as it can. Existing customers using 100% copper services are now vulnerable to pricing adjustments that are giving them three options: Get on AT&T U-verse Services, switch your copper services over to AT&T mobile services, or if neither service is viable, effectively be priced out of using AT&T service (this may not apply to rural customers).
The best examples I can give start with broadband service pricing prior to 2013 and after about the first week of January in 2013:
Introductory pricing for all speed tiers of broadband from both U-verse and DSL services, up to 6mb download rating, was exactly the same.
DSL modems and routers had a cheaper actual pricetag than the equivalent U-verse equipment, but the rebate on equipment the company was offering to DSL customers was $35.00 against a wireless router that had an $89.05 price point, and a $12.95 charge for shipping and handling. Same rebate for a slightly cheaper basic modem. You could avoid the shipping charge with a tech install, because the tech brought the equipment with him, but you were also billed $200.00 for the install.
A promo existed for 6mb DSL service that allowed for a free tech install, but the reason for that is that customers with 6mb DSL service are, in a LOT of cases, going to get access to U-verse IPDSL service in the future (meaning AT&T can eventually implement the same policy on them, when U-verse becomes available, as the existing one that I will describe a little later).
U-verse equipment, on the flip-side, had either a $75.00 modem (if it was IPDSL) with a $50.00 rebate available after service is active for 60 days on one year term pricing, or a $100.00 router with a $75.00 rebate available after service active for 60-days on one year term pricing. There was no shipping and handling, because technicians install all U-verse service for free for businesses.
Furthermore, the company was so completely serious about people using the service that, while U-verse pricing comes with a 1-year term agreement, there is no fee for terminating early.
Initially, the company gave the option of "month-tomonth" pricing on the U-verse ordering tool, but nobody used it, because the company continued to an open policy of no early termination fees and instructed sales reps to tell customers as much.
Month-to-month pricing was usually over 200% higher on most speed tiers of U-verse, and there was a fee for tech install.
It was almost as if the company IT department simply forgot to remove the option from the ordering tool.
I've since decided that some bean-counter figured out that some brain-dead sales rep would sell the month to month plan to an unwitting customer who needed shortterm service for 3 months, and who on term-pricing would have paid $25.00 after rebate for equipment, and three months of monthly recurring charges.
Instead, through leaving the option available to AT&T sales reps (and more likely the case, third party dealers), that customer paid a $150.00 install fee, paid full price for equipment with no rebate ever issued, and paid three months of month-to-month pricing that was 200% higher than the term pricing.
Anyway, let me continue.
The ETF situation remains: DSL is a $20.00 ETF per month left on the term, U-verse is no ETF regardless of time left on term.
At the start of the year, a major shift in policy occurred:
Term pricing for DSL on all available speed tiers that had been $30.00 a month when bundling with a local busines phone line and unlimited long distance was increased to $40.00 a month. The price of service for the same speed of U-verse terms remains $30.00 a month.
6mbps DSL service, when the $40.00 a month term expires, can be re-termed for $65.00 a month without purchasing additional services. 12mbps IPDSL U-verse that was $40.00 a month on the introductory term, can now be re-termed at $60.00 a month with no purchase of additional services. (Both cases require bundling with a business phone line with local service only, and getting long distance service results in no additional discount to either the long distance or the broadband).
This is the first case in the small business department where U-verse at any speed up to 6mb is cheaper than DSL service, and U-verse at 12mbps is cheaper than DSL at 6mbps.
This situation exists no matter which services are or are not bundled with broadband. If all you get at your business is broadband, U-verse up to 12mbps is now cheaper than DSL in virtually every case (although basic speed DSL and basic speed U-verse on stand-alone term pricing may be the same).
Now, about DSL customers moving to U-verse:
Before, you couldn't switch from DSL to U-verse unless the available speed at your address was at least 12mbps. It didn't matter if all you had was 768kbps DSL, and 6mbps U-verse was available. You couldn't do it.
Yet another policy change. Starting in January 2013, if the U-verse is equivalent to or better than the speed of your DSL, you get the "migration" promo: 100% free equipment (no rebate involved: You are never charged for the modem or router), first month of service free, free technician install, and term pricing that is either equivalent to or cheaper than your existing DSL service.
Additional perks for businesses, not available to residential, are that you can have up to 4 U-verse IPDSL connections at a single location (VDSL is still limited to one per location), and installation of IPDSL does not constitue disconnect of DSL service as a requirement of install (making it easier for businesses to manage downtime of business-critical systems that use broadband).
Basically, the company is flat-out subsidizing the move to U-verse, in virtually every case, by making the difference in price point irresistable to existing customers.
Finally, there is something to know about U-verse IPDSL: It can be implemented in virtually any area that currenlty has DSL service, and the VOIP phone service is functional on speeds starting at either 1.5mpbs or 3.0mbps. If you have DSL at that speed, AT&T can make the minimal fiber run to the CO serving your area, and give you what AT&T presently defines as "Fiber to the Node" service. If you have DSL at 6.0mbps, you will either have U-verse available at the same speed, or if your distance from the CO is the same as 12mb U-verse customers distance from their "node", you are looking at availability of 12mb service in the future.
If all you can get is basic DSL service, and you haven't been informed of U-verse availability to this point, you are potentially in a situation where AT&T isn't going to make U-verse available, and is eventually going to tell you that your DSL isn't available either.
The last thing you should know is that U-verse VDSL service at the 12mbps and 18mbps speed tiers has had some price-points introduced that are cheaper than the equivalent IPDSL speed tiers. IPDSL still uses a fair amount of copper infrastructure (though still less than DSL), VDSL in most areas uses almost none. This is probably the opening moves in the first offer to move from IPDSL to VDSL, in select areas.
So there's the story purely from a broadband service standpoint, but there's more to this:
Right now, the VOIP telephone service that residential U-verse customers use (analogue lines are basically not even offered in residential areas with U-verse service anymore) has not been available to businesses. It's still not available.
However, AT&T reps in my call center have started to notice something: When you qualify a business address for U-verse internet service, where previously the availability of VOIP service had always been marked as "no", it now says "yes". It still can't be ordered, but the software is now actively checking for it.
Small business customers, right now, have the option of getting a landline telephone number (entirely on copper), with unlimited local calling and 9 call management features for $35.00 a month on a 1-year term agreement. ETF is $15.00 per line times the number of months left on the contract.
The customer has the option of setting the term to auto-renew up to two times upon term expiration (meaning you can get that price for three years). The customer also has the option of calling in and turning the auto-renew on or off at will.
Previously, this same service had been available on a 3-year term agreement, for either the same price or slightly less money, but the company has phased that option out. The reason is probably related to the coming availability of U-verse VOIP service to business customers.
When that happens, the next step will be this: Customers that can get U-verse VOIP telephone service will be given the option to convert, at pricing that will be equal to or cheaper than their existing copper service, and probably all kinds of perks involving rebates and a month of free service, etc.
Customers that can't get U-verse VOIP service, but now have taken the option to opt-in to having the term auto-renew on their copper service will have a LONG time to start making plans to find another carrier, or migrate the service to AT&T mobile phones. After that, AT&T won't outright cancel the service, but like DSL service now, the price points are going to start going up. Increasing prices on customers in VOIP areas will encourage them to migrate on AT&T's dime.
In areas where VOIP isn't available, it will encourage others to subscribe to the increasingly robust and entirely wireless phone systems that are presently being marketed to only large companies, but just like when broadband used to be a service used when only large companies made use of broadband, it will be modified to be accessible to a wider customer base.
In areas where VOIP isn't available, mobility isn't available, or the customer refuses to change services, the customer will have their monthly recurring charges steadily increased to the point where they can find something cheaper somewhere else (if they are refusing to move to another service type, and AT&T starts increasing their prices, they're probably going to realize what's happening and get pissed enough to find a new carrier).
Again, in the case of customers running on 100% copper infrastructure, the pricing is being adjusted to either encourage them to switch service types, or cancel their service with AT&T.
The situation with AT&T long distance for customers on 100% copper infrastructure is easily the most blatant case of the company trying to dump a service it perceives as not generating enough profit.
I won't even go into specific dollars, so I'll just give you the increases from introductory rate to the rate the next term, as well as the bizarre policy AT&T has about term renewal when you don't add broadband or cellphone service:
Firstly, I should point out that AT&T has completely stopped offering new long distance service to wireline customers who don't have AT&T local service. If you are in Sprint territory and get a new landline telephone number, AT&T isn't going to give you long distance service unless it's the result of some bizarre ordering error, complete with a miss of the third party verification process.
Customers who already have the service may have noticed that the AT&T long distance direct bill customer service number now puts you into wireline customer service for your long distance service type (residential or business). In cases where customers have unlimited long distance service (and these are now EXTREMELY rare for long distance only customers) the price has gone up to obscene levels upon term expiration. Block of time minute plans continue to be the same price, but the customer has no possibility of ever receiving cheaper service.
At the moment, you can get unlimited long distance on your landline business service at one of four pricepoints, depending on what services are bundled with it. Bundling with broadband or cellphone services when you are a new customer porting from another landline provider results in rates that are $5.00 per line or $10.00 per line.
New customer not porting from another carrier gets the $10.00 per line.
With no broadband, pricing goes up to $15.00 per line.
All of these prices are on a 1-year term. ETF is one-half the per line price of the service, times the number of lines, times the number of months remaining in the term. Obviously, if you bought broadband or mobile service from AT&T, you're going to get hit with an ETF per line, but it's impact is substantially diminished 6 or 7 months in because the low amount of the per-line fee.
It's what happens after the first year, that will amaze you:
All of the plans have an "auto-renew" feature that executes if the customer doesn't make prior arrangements to cancel the service prior to term expiration. There is no option to opt-out of it upon ordering the service, like there is with local service, and no other AT&T service behaves like this upon term expiration:
Upon auto-renew, the per-line price of unlimited long distance goes to $20.00. It doesn't matter what your introductory rate had been. The per-line price of the ETF goes to $10.00, regardless of what it had previously been. At this point, you have options to renew, but if the renewal doesn't involve the purchase of new broadband service or new mobility service, the options are terrible.
Lastly, up until very recently, AT&T didn't require sales reps to disclose the new rate upon expiration. You had to read it amongst all the mail and email (if you provided an email address upon ordering) that AT&T bombs you with upon opening a new account. It's a "maybe wil be read" for a sole-prop owner, and a "highly unlikely" for someone on a tax id that has multiple business locations and an accounts payable department.
And, on the requirement for sales rep disclosure, they STILL don't require the rep to disclose it, past saying ETFs apply for terminating early. Still no required mention of auto-renew, and no mention of price after autorenew.
It is instead included in a 5 minute recording the customer is transferred to upon the conclusion of order on any wireline serivce with any term agreement. That recording proceeds to disclose pricing and ETFs for EVERY SINGLE TERM SERVICE AT&T OFFERS TO SMALL BUSINESS CUSTOMERS VIA PHONE ORDER TO THE SMALL BUSINESS CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTER!!!
The only thing possibly excluded is mobile service, because it is the only small business product that doesn't have a 1-year term (2 years for mobility).
The services disclosed include broadband, tech support 360 (remote desktop PC technical support), shared webhosting, back up and go (offsite data backup), local phone lines, and the long distance. Sit their for 5 minutes after you just ordered a local phoneline with nothing else, and you will briefly hear the disclosure about your $15.00 ETF.
The rep who transfers you says "press 1 to accept the terms, or if you don't, you can call and cancel the order within 2 business days". What happens if you don't press "1", and also don't call to cancel the order within two business days is never explained, even to the reps.
This is a gimmick established by AT&T legal to cover the fact that required disclosures for services were not being read by sales reps in huge cases, and all small business products are on verbal term agreements based on the phonecall.
They apparently decided that by disclosing everything you could have possibly bought, and being given vague verbiage by your rep that refusing to press "1" means you accept the terms, unless you cancel the order, basically amounts to AT&T instituting something to give the appearance that the customer bought the service.
Lastly, and most importantly, is this: The AT&T small business call center records 100% of inbound calls. A rep can't use a phone in that place without the conversation recorded, the rep has to end the call, go find a manager's desk phone that doesn't get recorded, and call the customer back.
Not long ago, those recordings went from being saved long-term to at least having manager access to them revoked after a short period of time. This is bizarre, because in a dispute over whether or not a customer ordered a service during a phonecall, or whether or not a rep properly disclosed pricing or terms - it was an easy way to settle the matter. It was also an easy way to fire a rep for what is stated is a violation of code of business conduct, as well as sales ethics guidelines.
In increasing cases, it would have also determined whether or not a rep informed the customer that 1-year contracts and ETFs would automatically renew for some services, if the customer didn't call back in to say they didn't want that.
So now, with the recordings either deleted or their access revoked to any individual that could settle the dispute (including escalation departments outside the call center that are supposed to be utilized for ETF disputes), the situation is this:
AT&T has revoked access to something that proves or disproves non-disclosure of products or terms at point of sale, added an automated recording and left ambiguous what happens for the lack of pressing "1", given the appearance that pressing "1" means the customer agrees to the terms of all the products in the book, and has proof that paper order confirmation was sent to the billing address for the account.
Neither the automated recording or the confirmation letter would hold against lack of disclosure at point of sale in court, and no manager listening to a recording of the call is going to hear no disclosure of a situation the customer is disputing, and do anything but refund the customer. Same for the escalation team.
AT&T has made the "proof" of the situation disappear, and instituted a blatantly misleading system.
So, after you have potentially been exposed to this situation, and your unlimited long distance expires, your renewal options are pretty rough:
You can opt in to a $15.00 per line term agreement, again, with the exact same auto-renew feature built into the plan. You can purchase a block of minute plan on one-year term pricing that starts at a bucket of 250 minutes that gets shared by all lines on the account, with a 6 cent per minute charge for minutes over 250, the next option up is a bucket of 750 mintues, with the same per minute charge, at $31.00 per month, and then a 1200 minute plan with 5 cent overages at $51.00 per month.
If a four-line customer had unlimited long distance and averaged 1200 minutes of use per month, they would see an immediate price increase of over 25% on the block of 1200 minute plan, if they never exceeded the 1200 minutes in any month.
Four customers that had 4 lines with unlimited long distance and made heavy use of long distance to the tune of several thousand minutes a month, they are looking at either a 300% increase in price or a 50% increase in price for the same unlimited service on a new term, depending on where they started.
If you add either new mobility or new broadband, you can get it back for $10.00 per month (but the company doesn't make a lot of attractive offers on the broadband service itself, beyond what I already described about Uverse and DSL pricing).
Lastly, and this is either a result of poor foresight by the company, or somebody in marketing deciding that a long-time customer or 1-year and out customer is likely to do something rash to stop dealing with AT&T - lastly is what happens if you either call AT&T and tell them you don't want a new term on your long distance, but still want the ability to make long distance calls, or else terminate long distance service after the auto-renew and do not purchase another contracted service from the company (mobility or broadband or even another landline telephone on a term):
You call in because you notice your long distance bill has gone from the introductory rate to $20.00 per line (again, a price increase of 400%, 200%, or 50%, depending on what you previously were paying). AT&T sends contract expiration notices in month ten. Accounting for time the mail runs, you get about 6 weeks to respond, if you open the thing when it arrives.
They are not mentioned on the bill. They come amongst 2-3 pieces of marketing mail that has come every month. They go to the billing address (which may or may not result in them landing with someone at the business who can make purchasing decisions).
If the accounts payable person never tells anyone, and the company has so many accounts that audits of telecomm prices are infrequent because telecomm expense appears on the surface to be low, they can go for the next 1, 2, and 3 years paying $20.00 per line for unlimited long distance.
If the customer gets pissed and claims this wasn't disclosed to them, they are told "a notice was sent to your billing address", and have no further recourse. If it's a customer that has been paying that rate for a long time, their response is "we've had this service for 5 years! How can we still be under contract?!?!!?". Again, the response is, even after the third renewal of the $20.00 per line rate (2 years of paying at that rate), when it's obvious that nobody at the business who needs to know is actually getting the one-time mailing of the expiration/renewal notice - "you were sent a letter".
At that point, the recording is gone even by old standards, the customer with four lines has just paid $80.00 a month for 24 months straight, and the best they're going to get offered up front from AT&T is "buy new broadband, new mobility, or take $15.00 per line". No refund offered. Terminate, and AT&T's parting gift is the ETF on the plan that auto-renewed 3 times, in all likelihood without the first auto-renew being disclosed to the customer, nevermind the next two.
Since the last customer is the blatant target, and probably has the bucks to pay the ETF, AT&T seems to have basically found a way to start dumping long distance on wireline copper service as fast as they can. It will be cheap on VOIP, and it's unlimited on mobile phones.
If you don't have u-verse, don't have cellphones, and either can't or refuse to get either service, you need to watch your back.
Lastly, I will tell you that the AT&T small business customer service started a conversion process about 4 years ago where customer service reps working entirely on hourly pay were now sitting next to a co-worker with a different title: Leverage Service Representative. Their hourly pay is substantially lower than long-time customer service reps, but their commission pay is not.
To give you a basic example: The education and experience requirements for the position are "high school diploma or equivalent". Only additional requirement is "previous call center and sales experience a plus". Their pay is 60% hourly, 40% commission, IN THE CASE OF HITTING EXACTLY 100% OF SALES OBJECTIVES!!!
What's important to know is that when reps go over this, their commission pay starts to dwarf their hourly pay. They are also given a $500.00 kicker for scoring maximum on customer satisfaction surveys (hilariously, this is a tiny amount of money next to sales commission).
Incomes at $70.000 and flirting with 6 figures are not uncommon, and in the case of all of these reps working SW and West customers, they are all generally based in areas where cost of living makes a paycheck like this look huge.
It is factual that some of these individuals are outright misleading customers in some places, manipulating the ordering system in others.
Example of order manipulation (there are many more):
Customer wants to renew local calling plan, agent types order to renew plan and also simultaneously removes and then reinstalls the customer's call waiting, caller ID, 3- way calling, call fowarding, etc. No interruption of service to the customer, the ordering system interprets it as a sale, and the rep has the features applied to their daily target for new revenue.
The customer's only indication that anything transpired is the next bill has a full extra page or two on it, which shows a "services removed" section where all their features are summarized as being removed from their lines, followed immediately by a "services added" section, with a summary of the precise same features. After that, the only evidence is the order itself, and nobody audits those.
The team that is supposed to monitor reps to make sure they follow sales ethics guidelines that would normally prevent a lot of disputes was recently outsourced to India. The best example I can give of how this creates a problem is this:
A rep tells a new customer that, on a 1-year term, they can pay $89.00 for a full featured local phoneline with unlimited local calling, unlimited long distance, 6mb Uverse and "free technical support".
Sound like you're getting a phone and internet, with AT&T technical support on the internet? Yes. Is that what you actually get? No.
The price breakdown of what the rep will actually order is this:
Local phoneline $35.00
Long distance $10.00
Broadband $30.00 (unlimited technical support is free)
AT&T Technical Support 360 $14.00
The Technical Support 360 is the sales fraud. That service is AT&T's remote desktop PC technical support service, for one computer only. The reps are U.S.-based, and it's a 24/7 service. It carries a 1-year term with an ETF, and it is disclosed in the recording.
A person in India may or may not recognize what just happened, and even if they see the reps computer screen while monitoring and watch them order, they may have interpreted the reps price quote and words as actual disclosure.
AT&T just ran a contest with a $1500 cash payout on the prepaid Visa gift cards issued to all reps in all call centers for special incentives for selling particualr products. The contest mandated that a rep that was at either a 125% or 150% of new sales revenue target (how much additional monthly recurring payments your sales bring to AT&T), and finishes in the top 3 regionwide (think at least 500 reps, 200 of which are in one call center) - the top 3 reps in TS360 sales who met the revenue requirement split the pot 3 ways.
That service isn't really popular amongst existing customers who have been in business for awhile, because it covers literally only one computer, and doesn't address hardware issues, and excludes a huge swath of software that doesn't amount to the usual Microsoft stuff that small business owners use.
It got sold in huge amounts that month, like some reps who were selling 8-10 a month (in over 600 inbound phonecalls) suddenly had 30. The sales commission for selling this bundle in quantities like this, even without the incentive, would be massive.
The "free technical support" word-play was heard directly by a rep on another sales team sitting one cube over in a co-workers cube, the co-worker who was normally there got asked about it later, and proceeded to say that not only was it common for that rep to sell it like that, but that they had been instructed to do so by their team lead (salaried member of management who also gets paid commission based on sales results of their team members).
This isn't common, but it's not a situation where it's a few customers either. This is one rep doing this, and other reps who aren't blatantly misleading tend to complicate customer issues to generate a sale. If you move your business location to a new address, have DSL internet available at both the current and new address, and can keep your phone numbers, the DSL order that should be used is literally labeled as "move" in the list of possible order types in the tool.
However, substantial amounts of reps actually issue a disconnect order on the existing service, and an order for entirely new service at the new address. If the customer has static IP addresses, they unnecessarily have to deal with those addresses changing. If they happen to make use of the attached @att.net email, and don't watch close, it gets delted and taken out of service because it was interpreted that the customer cancelled the service.
Another common practice is for reps to do this:
Customer calls in wanting broadband service for their business. Broadband not available at that address. Rep offers, as an alternative, a mobile WiFi hotspot. Basically, a wireless router that uses 4G LTE instead of landlines for it's internet connection. The dataplan is $50.00, it's a two year contract, and overages are $10.00 per gig.
It is largely unsuitable for long-term use from day-today, and if the customer has no idea about data limits and doesn't set the display on the thing to show their dataplan, they decide 4G LTE works great at streaming video their watching on their business laptop. It's fast, and it will also eat the dataplan in short-order.
If the customer uses something like carbonite to back up their machine, or elects to download 500mb+ of Windows Updates or whatever (both of which can have been set to happen automatically a long time ago, and forgotten by the user), dataplan gets eaten for lunch.
It is totally unsuitable for anybody that doesn't totally micromanage their use of the internet as a viable alternative to landline internet. In cases of particular business types that have to move a HUGE amount of data once in awhile (3D CAD drawings being passed between contractors working a large construction project are a good example), it's not even feasible. But people don't realize it, and they buy it, and they have a 2 year contract with an ETF that can't be backed out of after 30 days.
The company's policy on something like this doesn't involve going back to inquire about how in-depth the rep went to set realistic expecations of what it could be used for.
My point in telling about shady sales practices isn't to suggest that AT&T has wide-spread fraud being instituted by reps in its centers, my poiint is to tell you that if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of this, the company is actively taking steps to limit your recourse, particularly with yanking access to call recordings.
The company is also actively cracking down on reps issuing "courtesy" adjustments to customers for problems they've experienced with the AT&T customer service department, complaints about loss of business for being out of service due to an AT&T error, or calling in for the 3rd month in a row about something you've been told each month would be fixed, only to see your bill with the same problem.
If you're going to get copper-based services, at least from the small business department, you need to really really look at all your mail. In fact, I'd get your order confirmation letter, and call back into the call center and read it verbatim to the person you speak with.
AT&T is trying to price numerous servcies out of existence, and problems with the ordering process, sales ethics, and moves by AT&T legal are limiting your ability for recourse if you get an unpleasant surprise on your bill.
Moving customers off the copper network is really a good move by AT&T as far as improving service goes, but the pricing structure being used to motivate customers to make various decisions about their service has major defects that start at point of sale and continue onward afterwards.
AT&T is also taking steps to remove methods of accurately settling disputes, and confuse customers with recent changes in process that appear to be an effort to discourage threats of legal action, at the least, and probably create a misleading picture of things, in the instances where legal action takes place.
Get proactive about your service, look at your bill, and if you don't know details of the pricing on your service, call in and ask. When you finish the phonecall, call back in and ask an entirely different rep, to make sure they tell you the same thing.
Once you know how you fit into the wireline plans, start planning ahead about the future of the service you have.