Joy and Despair in a Single Day

BeakerTwo things came in the mail today that represent the poles of joy and despair for me. Although I didn’t open then in this order, let’s start with despair, because I can’t deal with ending on it. I got the AT&T bill today. Insert dramatic music here.

Ever since I got to the one year mark with my package with the company, it has been hell. Even though I was extremely clear when I first signed up that I wanted absolutely positively no special deals that were going to run out, after one year literally every part of the package went up in price. And by literally, I do not mean the newer definition of the word meaning “not literally,” I mean literally “literally.” So I called them up and they lowered a few things, most notably my internet cost. My bill went up but it was manageable. And it was all retroactive. But they told me to pay the whole amount on the bill and they would refund me the over-payment.

The next month I got the bill. It thanked me for my over-payment, which it said was exactly the amount I owed. And it asked for the same high level for the current month. So I called them up again. They told me not to worry, the changes didn’t get made before the bill went out. Everything was fine, though. The changes had been made. They told me to pay the whole amount on the bill and they would refund me the over-payment.

So this month, I’m thinking with all those over-payments, the bill would be low. Some of my friends are fond of pointing out that in many respects, I am a hopeless optimist. Accent on the “hopeless.” I opened the bill and it thanked me very much for my over-payment, which it said was exactly the amount I owed. And it asked for even more money for the current month. Ugh!

I looked through the bill. I saw why it had gone up again. The satellite television bill had “NFL SUNDAY TICKET 2014” added to it for a total extra cost of $42.99. This was especially galling to me because as everyone knows, I think that football is the most boring game ever invented! And I knew that I hadn’t signed up for it. But I at least understood: the bill went up because they were charging me for something I neither wanted nor asked for. But why was I again at the same high level for internet and phone?

So I called them up. At this point, I’m not angry (Not that I ever take it out on the poor souls who man the phones!) so much as exhausted. I think in a matter of just three months, AT&T has managed to reduce me to learned helplessness. I explain the situation to the bright young representative. It got very bad. She was apologizing so much that she was starting to sound like an abused wife. But the bottom line was that the reduced internet cost was just not in the records. After apologizing several more times, she put me through to the specialist. Insert the same dramatic music here.

But before I get back to the story, I’d like to introduce you to a pet peeve of mine that has really done wonders to my attitude. If you’re like me, you’re used to being abused by soulless corporations who you have no choice but to do business with. But why is it when I call any company at all, their computer system asks me to enter my account number? When a “customer service” representative comes on the line, he never knows what my account number is. Are they just messing with me? Just making sure I am serious about my call? I’d really like to know. (For the record, I think I know why. But it still doesn’t explain why they can’t manage to send the account information to the representatives.)

So I get to talk to Linda. In all my hours with AT&T, she is the first person I have talked to who seemed to be my age. This was very good, because I’ll admit it: I’m biased towards older people. I even took one of those “subconscious bias” tests and it found that I had a distinct bias for older people. It speaks very poorly of us that as a society we have a distinct bias for the young. I think it means we value looks over competence and wisdom. Anyway, Linda gave me my old internet discount. Plus she gave me another $5 per month discount for putting up with what is, after all, no worse than what I get from every other soulless corporate giant. And she gave me her phone number and a confirmation code. And she knew better than to tell me to pay the whole amount on the bill because they would refund me the over-payment.

Then I had to deal with the satellite part of it, but I won’t bore you with it. Let’s just say that supposedly that all got straightened out. But even if it did, it won’t surprise me if the next bill is $60 more for the “24 HOUR PARTRIDGE FAMILY NETWORK.” At this point, literally (as in literally “literally”) nothing would surprise me.

The good news is that Andrea spent $2.32 in postage to send me a Googly Eye Ring that she got at the dollar store. They are the perfect googly eye addition to all your sock puppets. Here is Andrea’s hand using it to look very much like Beaker from The Muppets:

Googly Eye Ring Puppet

So let it not be said that there is no good in life. Even as evil lawyers and executives all over the world are looking for better and better ways to gouge you and waste your time (“Think we could get the idiots to enter their account number five times per call?”) there are other people inventing the Googly Eye Ring. The world is not totally bad.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Joy and Despair in a Single Day

  1. I had almost the same situation very recently with Comcast. I also had not had a "promotional" price for internet and (basic) TV, but my bill shot up almost double anyway. After a long, drawn out battle over days on the phone with multiple reps, I finally waited for over twenty minutes on hold to speak with a supervisor who advised me that my monthly package price for the prior year had been a "mistake," and that instead of demanding that I make up any difference because of their error, they had started billing me the additional amount they insisted was the "real" price for my package. I refused to pay that. We negotiated. I got a great deal, but I still had to pay for the two months that they had "corrected" my package price to a much higher price. They had also removed fees that I had disputed, but those fees kept popping back up ("self install kit" for a new TV package that required a different cable box, "change fee," etc.). I had to call again and again and again to have the fees removed repeatedly because even though a rep would remove them, later on the system would reject the removal. For all of my trouble, the supervisor gave me three months free of HBO, so now I can watch "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver (this week features a jaw dropping episode about payday loan companies). I hadn’t missed Real Time with Bill Maher because I listened to the audio podcast provided via iTunes. So, in the end, I’m paying less than I was before and I have more cable channels and the same highest speed broadband internet, plus free HBO. But, the trouble and hassle and some UNBELIEVABLE phone reps were just incredible. In fact, this month, for my first month on my new package pricing, there’s $11.36 that I cannot figure out where it’s coming from… and neither can the Indian reps… but… they won’t admit that. They just talk in circles until I hang up. I want to thank Bill Clinton for signing the 1996 Telecommunications Act and providing me the opportunity for this rant.

  2. I’d been through a similar battle with my Net provider recently and it was demoralizing as hell. But I think I mentioned what strikes me the most about this: how people who imagine the gummint to be a maelstrom of bureaucratic inefficiency (often true) can think private services are always better (rarely true.) I think when they get the run-around from private services they give up and blame themselves for being poor. When they get the run-around from government they keep trudging on and often win.

    Hence, Gummint bad, because if you’re rich enough to not care what you pay your internet provider/heath insurer/whatever then the only bureaucracy you might ever fight with is gummint, which when it’s not bought off in court treats poor tax dodgers and rich tax dodgers exactly the same.

  3. @Andrew — This shit is becoming epidemic. "The Progressive" just had an article about it (subscribers only, but it’s only $10 for a year). Most areas only have two ISPs (Telecommunication Act!) and if you’ve fought with one you aren’t likely to try the other.

    We need more competition, and if private companies won’t step up the government should. Private companies are going ape to prevent this. They are suing northern Minneosta communities without ANY ISPs who have even thought about doing it municipally. Not because they want the business (they don’t), but because if enough municipal ISPs work properly (there are a few, some work well, some are shit) then private ones will either have to provide better service or go out of business, both bad for profits. It’s the health-insurance "public option" all over again.

    @Frank — Where’s Moist when we need him!

  4. @andrew markoff – You’ve got me beat! But there’s still time. I’ll let you know. And yes, well, Clinton. Now that conservatives have decided he was great, it’s about time for liberals to decide that all things considered, he was horrible. For the record, I am already on the record as to that conclusion. Sigh.

    @JMF – During my relatively long life, I have seen government bureaucracy get better and better and business bureaucracy get worse and worse. As you mention, pretty much everywhere you go, you have 2 options for internet. Service with cell phones has been far better because there is slightly more competition.

    The internet should be treated as a public utility!

    Forget Moist! We would get a better managed nation with Lord Vetinari. He would never stand for this. A lot of people would be dead, but they would be the right kind of people. The Koch brothers–all four of the bastards–would be dead. At least with Vetinari, you have only one of him as he gets rid of the rest.

    BTW: if you are done with [i]Making Money[/i], you must read [i]Raising Steam[/i]. I think I’m getting sucked in. I’m thinking of reading [i]The Truth[/i] next.

  5. @Frank- Heed my warnings about bad Pratchett. (Well, not "bad," but not as creative as the best.) And check out "Small Gods." You might really love that one.

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