By Calvin Palmer
My Internet connection and phone line went down in the early hours of Wednesday morning. I did the usual trick of turning off the modem and powering it back up but to no avail. I then noticed a flashing light — In Use — on the telephone and discovered the line was dead also.
It was left to my wife to report the fault. She has a cell phone and I do not.
Our telephone and Internet service provider is AT&T. Despite the repeated offers from Comcast to switch I have remained loyal to AT&T, although in the past 24 hours my loyalty has been tested almost to breaking point.
First off, the person on the AT&T help desk suggested unplugging all the phones and disconnecting the modem. “It often brings everything back into service,” the person told my wife, without any mention of sending someone round to take a look.
I did unplug all the phones as instructed but knowing full well it would make not one jot of difference. And I was right.
But how was I to contact my wife and get her to call AT&T again.
Riverside, Jacksonville, has some of the last remaining payphones in the United States and one of them, fortunately is only a block away from my house.
Having never used a payphone since moving to America, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but figured the process would be similar to the one used by British Telecom back in Britain.
Luckily, I had a pocket of loose change but was taken aback when instructed to insert 50 cents for a 15-minute local call. First, I did not expect to pay so much. I figured 25 cents would be steep for a call. Second, I did not require 15 minutes. My business would take three minutes, five minutes at the most.
Of course, my wife was unavailable. She usually is when any emergency or crisis arrives and I need her assistance. Be it the direct line to her office or her iPhone, I can guarantee that in such circumstances I will get her voice mail.
My wife’s gorgeous voice, and she really does have a lovely voice, instructed me to leave my message at the end of the tone. I did so but would have much preferred to have spoken to her directly.
The Internet for me is not some idle playing – it is my life. I am dependent on it 100 percent for news, information and communication with the outside world. I also have this blog site to maintain, another one that deals solely with my photographic endeavors and my daily contribution to Blipfoto – all of which were destined to come to a grinding halt.
Most of my social interaction is conducted via the Internet. In fact, I met my wife in an Internet chat room. She was drawn to me by my ability to spell and punctuate correctly.
Any shopping I do, which has been precious little these past couple of years as my income has fallen to zero, is done online. It is my wife’s birthday next week and I was on the point of ordering something when I discovered my Internet connection had disappeared.
I need the Internet to function.
When my wife returned from work, she asked me if AT&T had been. I said not. I asked her if she had received my phone messages. She had not looked for them. However, she had called AT&T again and been told that a repair docket had been issued. She was pissed that AT&T had not turned up despite being given that assurance.
She called AT&T again. It emerged that I was not alone in having lost my Internet connection and phone line. Apparently, a major cable supplying the Riverside area was broken and many other people were in a similar position as me.
My wife was told that it should be repaired by October 18.
When this nugget of information was imparted to me, my reaction was unprintable. Since when has the United States become a Third World country? I asked, once I had vented my anger with a string of expletives. A vital service was going to take 12 days to repair? I was left speechless.
The glossy high-tech image AT&T presents in its TV ads seemingly bears little resemblance to the real world. A 12-day wait before my life could resume had me thinking strongly about switching to Comcast.
The gloom that descended over me today was heavy and intense. I had little interest in doing anything in the knowledge that I was isolated from the world and all that I hold dear. I kept thinking of how I was going to cope over the course of the next 12 days. It was a depressing prospect that I tried to put out of my mind but it kept looming large.
In the middle of the afternoon, I thought I would check if I could access a network on my wife’s laptop. In the past, such a move has enabled me to check e-mails and see what is going on in the world. However, these days most networks are secured by a WPA pass code, as is my network, and are inaccessible to outsiders.
I happened to go into the office, before heading to the Mac Pro, in what I term the “creative suite” – it’s the back bedroom in actuality — to work on processing images from last week’s trip to Atlanta, when I noticed the In Use light on the telephone had stopped flashing. I picked up the phone and obtained a dialing tone. I was back in business. Yay!!!!
So where did this mysterious repair date of October 18 come from?
My wife has just written me an e-mail, saying that she telephoned AT&T again and was told someone had been dispatched today and the ultimate repair date was still supposed to be October 18. Also the promised phone call to her when the repair had been completed was never made. No surprise there.
I would have thought that if a major cable providing Internet and telephone service to Riverside had broken, it would have made the news. I cannot find any reference to such a story. I doubt The Florida Times-Union would run the story even if it were aware of it. The newspaper may not like Big Government but it sure gives big corporations a free ride.
So just what is going on with AT&T, apart from making huge profits by providing a shoddy service and seemingly by employing complete idiots? Has any repair man visited my house? No. Have I got my Internet service back? Yes. I guess the pixies must have fixed it.
So while I am grateful to the engineers and technical staff at AT&T for getting me back online, my contempt for the people at customer service knows no bounds. For a company in the communications business, AT&T patently fails when it comes to communicating with its customers.
If any senior managers at AT&T happen to read this piece, I have one message for them: “Get your act together where customer service is concerned. You don’t know how close you were to losing my business.”