AT&T: We Suck Therefore We Are

get smart shoe phoneLovely. Just lovely. I had the pleasure this afternoon of chatting with ‘Ariel Jay Wade’, an AT&T Representative, about the dismal AT&T coverage in Norwich.

Ariel Jay Wade: Hi! Thank you for chatting in to AT&T. We’ll be more than happy to assist you with your inquiry.

Ariel Jay Wade: What questions do you have regarding your coverage?

Me: when we signed up almost four years ago, coverage in our area (zip 05055) was spotty. we were told that was going to improve now that ATT had taken over from Unicel

Me: two years ago, when we renewed, nothing had changed — we were told it was coming soon, though.

Me: today, i still get zero to 1 bar at my house — that goes for all three of our phones (incl. two smartphones)

Me: our contract expires in a few months, and i’m trying to figure out why we should renew w/ ATT now that Verizon has rolled out 4G in our area. Is ATT’s coverage going to get any better here any time soon — or is there anything that can be done about it?

Ariel Jay Wade: I apologize that you are still having issues with the coverage in your area. What AT&T can do today is to look at this for you and if it’s alright with you, I would like to do some troubleshooting to possibly get to the root cause of this issue. Will that be alright with you?

Me: sure

Ariel Jay Wade: You mentioned that you are getting zero to one bar when inside the house. Does it also apply when you are outside?

Me: gets a little better (1-2 bars) up the road a bit.

Ariel Jay Wade: Alright. I just need to verify the level of coverage that you are getting in your area. May I please have your street address?

Me: 37 Turnpike Road, Norwich VT 05055

Ariel Jay Wade: Now based on what you told me, the issue is worse when indoors. It’s possible that the building materials of the house is affecting the coverage inside. I also checked that you are getting a moderate level of coverage in your area. I just need to look at a few more details. Thank you for your patience.

Ariel Jay Wade: Since you are located in an area with moderate level of coverage, what we can do is to submit a network incident report. Submitting this report will not result in immediate network updates but will be considered in future network planning. Her are possible ways to improve your signal: While indoors in a moderate signal area, it is possible to achieve better signal by moving closer to a window or changing rooms if possible. It is also a good practice to power your device off and on occasionally to renew the device registration with the network.

Me: Seriously… that’s it?!? Then I would like to thank you so very, very much for your help. My friends in the area with Verizon phones get five solid bars inside my (wood framed) house. If the best AT&T can do is suggest that I “move closer to the window” or turn off my phone, then the choice has been made for me. After four years of “moderate level” (aka “miserable”) coverage at “full coverage” price, I’m ready to move on.

Ariel Jay Wade: I’m sorry to hear that you are considering to discontinue service. We have a special department who might be able to provide you with further assistance since the issue is still occuring even after doing basic troubleshooting. We have our customer relations team which can be reached at 800-331-0500.

Me: Okay… but what can they do other than suggest I move even closer to the window? Will they perhaps suggest that I open it, too? It’s cold in New England this time of year…

Ariel Jay Wade: They might be able to offer you some other options on how to get better coverage which basic troubleshooting cannot resolve.


So I called 1-800-SUCK-A-BAG-O-DICKS, AT&T’s crack squad of elite customer service wizards. The phone ninja I got in touch with checked the coverage in our area, told me that we have one (1) single AT&T cell tower up here, but that an additional AT&T tower might be coming sometime in December. Until then? Yes, we’d be stuck with the big, fat nothing that we’ve got. And would I like fries with that?

When pushed on possible options apart from switching to Verizon, The Godess of Wireless Wisdom informed me that I could purchase an AT&T micro tower for a mere $199 that would boost AT&T’s signal using my high speed internet connection. I hear that the solution actually works quite well, but I flat-out refuse to spend our money (and our pricey internet connection) in order to mitigate AT&T’s coverage woes. 

I do, however, greatly admire the cojones of the AT&T marketing guy who casually shrugged and said, “screw it, let the suckers pay for it themselves!” when asked what the company should do about their completely inadequate coverage. An inspired move, good Sir, not unlike a hotel selling you an overpriced room, and then — when you complain that it is, in fact, completely empty — proceeding to show you the list of expensive options for buying a bed, a chair, a set of curtains etc.

So, it looks like we’re switching to Verizon — a bit like trading a bad dose of the clap for chronic diarrhea and a jolly round of smallpox. I”m sure it’ll be fun and not at all cringe-inducing. I feel terrible for the guys at Advantage Wireless, the AT&T reseller shop on 12A in Lebanon. They offer simply amazing customer service and are genuinely great people to deal with. Why they are cursed with flogging the suckiest product on earth is not clear to me — they deserve so  much better. 

First Sunset in Vermont

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And… we’re back. Last days of the year, first full days of recovery. In the picture above, Lisa is getting in a few laps of cross country skiing on our local field before sunset, while our dog Lucky tries to get to grips with the fact that her owners have suddenly reappeared after abandoning her six months ago. That may take a while — at least as long as it will take me to get her back down to her usual weight — apparently, she’s been eating feverishly to deal with anxiety over our absence.

After an insane last day in Kigali (no, really; that was one for the record books), we had a refreshingly uneventful trip home. No real surprises getting out of Kigali; all our bags got checked, including the awkward box with my bike (of course, given the $100 fee that KLM insisted on charging, I would have liked to see the bike fully assembled and race tuned upon our arrival — but, alas, no such luck). The immigration desk was newly equipped with a camera and fingerprint reader (uh, why?) and staffed with a couple of friendly guys who actually smiled briefly and couldn’t be bothered to find anything wrong with our paperwork (slackers).

It is of course a well-known secret of the airline industry that sticking a 6’3″ guy with a 36″ inseam in a seat in steerage on an eight hour overnight flight is at least as effective as waterboarding him. With my knees wrapped around my ears, my back and neck screaming for relief, and my feet tingling from the rapid onset of blood clots, rigor mortis, or both, I would have confessed to pretty much anything the tired and overworked KLM cabin crew could have demanded. Thankfully, half the passengers on the plane got off when we stopped in Entebbe, allowing Lea and I to share a row of four seats between us for the night. Still, with less than two hours of sleep, I felt like export-grade shit when we landed in Amsterdam before dawn, swearing once again to never, ever travel by plane unless forced to do so by “circumstances entirely beyond my control.”

A five hour layover in Schiphol offered us a technicolor preview of civilization and a crash refresher course in crass and pointless consumerism. There was an Aston Martin parked in a liquor store by our gate, and a casino parked right next to the Swarovski jewelry store. In fairness, Amsterdam’s airport also features a library and tons of play spaces and zone-out zones, but still… 

In addition to an infinite George Clooney-esque ego boost, Lisa’s Platinum status on Sky Team also gets her and a guest into the KLM business class lounge, so while she and Lucas luxuriated in the inner sanctuary of free food and stark but comfy and functional Euro design, Lea and I roamed the massive temple of duty free excess. Lea tried out the awesome foot-massage-by-fish at the Traveler’s Spa (no, really, it’s a thing), and we shared some ridiculously overpriced coffee and hot chocolate at Starbucks. I bought every variation on licorice I could find (and this being Holland, there were many, many wonderful variations), and we both marveled at how clean, neat, and excessively organized the place was.

Onwards, ever onwards. After the full body scans and professional-grade groping, the third degree interrogation by immigrations, as well as some last minute frantic emptying of water bottles (“take this plane to Cuba, or I’ll hydrate!”), Delta’s flight to Boston left on time with all four of us comfortably tucked on board. Lisa had worked her magic with Delta online and secured us seats in an exit row in Economy Comfort (surely an awkward confession by Delta that, deep down, they know the other half of the plane is Economy Discomfort), so I could actually stretch out and relax for a change. I got started on Daniel Kahneman’s amazing “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” but through no fault of his, I dozed off for large parts of the seven hour flight. A friendly, competent crew made the trip downright enjoyable — particularly the amazing hostess who was retiring after 42 years and was celebrated in style by her colleagues all the way across the Atlantic. Nice to see that in spite of the dogged determination by corporations to turn their staff into mere cogs in the machine, they remain real individuals with real personalities.

After a quick encounter with yet another friendly immigrations officer (who knew there were so many of them out there?) who really wanted a job as safari guide in Tanzania, we collected our mountain o’ crap at Logan and stepped out into the cold, gray world of December in New England. Bliss. Sheer bliss. The cool air felt great, the drab skyline looked inviting, the surly cabbies didn’t stare at us while asking for money, there was free wi-fi everywhere, and a big bus heading towards home.

I don’t know how it had been orchestrated, but it magically started snowing half way up I-93, and by the time we got to Hanover everything was white and blissful, providing the perfect backdrop for our return.

Running entirely on fumes at this point, I was overwhelmed by the army of good friends who had turned out in spite of the snow and the cold to to help us get us the very last bit of the way from the bus stop to our house. Really, truly a sight for sore eyes. Because when all is said and done, this is what matters more than anything — these are people I care about, people I think the world of, that I know I can trust to call on when I get out of my depth. More than anything, that was also what made a difference in Kigali, where similar good friends repeatedly stepped in and picked up the pieces I dropped. 

It feels strange to be back where nothing has changed except those of us who left and came back somehow different. Where everything is as it was when we left, but we’re not, precisely because we left. Where we were sorely missed when we left, and where we have been warmly welcomed back by one and all. Where I truly feel at home and at ease.