COLUMN FORTY, DECEMBER 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
SO MUCH FOR AT&T!
July 16, 1998
295 North Maple Avenue
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
Dear Mr. Armstrong,
At the age of 70, I have been a lifelong AT&T subscriber. Because my monthly Social Security check represents my sole income, I am, of course, very penurious and am always looking for an opportunity to save money. The suspicion that your many different "programs" have been nothing but an attempt to confuse customers like me has not escaped me and so when you first instituted your 10-Cents-A-Minute Program, I phoned your business office and asked if your 10-Cents-A-Minute Program would benefit me. Your representative informed me that said program would certainly not benefit me and so I left whatever program I was signed onto remain in place.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to another of your representatives and learned that your 10-Cents-A-Minute Program would indeed save me a bundle. Obviously, I was irked to have been so grossly misinformed by a representative of your company and demanded that your 10-Cents-A-Minute Program be applied in my case retroactively. Your representative said she could only make the program retroactive for three months even though the program had been in effect for much longer.
All right, I swallowed that baloney, but my suspicion that your vast variety of "programs" is intended only to squeeze as much money as possible from confused subscribers like me was greatly reinforced.
The main reason I have remained with AT&T was your "True Rewards" program by which I have saved up enough points to earn a United Airlines ticket to California to see my daughter and my 5-year-old grandson. Today, in the belief that, combined with the miles I have in United's "Mileage Plus" program, I have accrued enough AT&T points to earn a ticket to make that trip, I phoned your business office to have my AT&T points transferred to my United Airlines "Mileage Plus" account. Only to learn that you have discontinued your association with United Airlines. I do not remember ever being informed of this fact, unless, like the storied Scots storekeeper who was trying to gain the attention of the customer who forgot to take the change due him, you tapped on the window with a sponge.
Frankly, I now find myself fed up with all the different ways AT&T has figured out to screw me.
* * *
July 30, 1998
295 North Maple Avenue
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
Dear Mr. Armstrong,
A very charming gentleman named Mike Thoma phoned me yesterday in response to my letter to you of July 16, in which I, as a lifelong AT&T subscriber, dared to trouble you with two specific complaints. Charming as Mr. Thoma was, however, my complaints remained unaddressed.
My first complaint centers around the fact that AT&T instituted its 10-cents-a-minute "program" in November of 1996. At that time, I phoned the AT&T Business Office and asked a representative if switching to that "program" would benefit me. AT&T, it seems, has a multitude of "programs" and I am not a rocket scientist. You see, I'm just a 70-year-old blacklisted journalist trying to live on my Social Security check while writing THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST column on the Internet.
But because each of AT&T's "programs" has so many ins and outs, I would HAVE to be a
At 70, I'd been
customer of AT&T
rocket scientist to determine which of AT&T's "programs" would benefit me the most. At this point, I must ask you to forgive me for the moments when my anguish has led me to suspect that AT&T deliberately complicates its "programs" just to confuse old farts like me.
At the age of 70, I have been a lifelong AT&T subscriber. Because my monthly Social Security check represents my sole income, I obviously have to watch my pennies. I am, of course, very penurious and am always looking for an opportunity to save money. The suspicion that AT&T's many different "programs" have been nothing but an attempt to confuse customers like me has lingered and so when AT&T first instituted its 10-Cents-A-Minute Program, I phoned AT&T's business office and asked if AT&T's 10-Cents-A-Minute Program would benefit me. An AT&T representative misinformed me that said program would certainly not benefit me and so I left whatever program I was signed onto remain in place. That misrepresentation by an AT&T representative has obviously cost me a lot of money.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to another of your representatives and learned that your 10-Cents-A-Minute "program" would indeed save me a bundle. Obviously, I was irked to have been so grossly misinformed by a representative of your company and demanded that your 10-Cents-A-Minute "program" be applied in my case retroactively. Your representative said she could only make the program retroactive for three months even though the program had been in effect for much longer.
When I asked Mr. Thoma why doesn't AT&T automatically give a lifelong subscriber like me the cheapest rate available without the customer having to be a rocket scientist, he said to do so would violate FCC rules. Once again, Mr. Armstrong, I am forced to beg your forgiveness. At the age of 70, I must confess I'm still an innocent. I thought the FCC worked for the consumers, and not for the companies.
I know I was foolish to take your AT&T representative's word for it when, in November of 1996, she advised me to remain in the "program" which I already had signed onto. I know it wasn't too smart of me not to think to double-check until June or July of 1998 but I never had any reason to double check. As I've already explained, I am a lifelong AT&T subscriber. I have been with AT&T since the days when there were no other phone companies but AT&T.
In those days, I knew we had to trust AT&T to be fair with us in what you charged us. So I learned to trust AT&T. That's why I took the representative's word for it. I felt comfortable dealing with AT&T. Even when my kids signed up with less expensive phone companies, I stayed with AT&T. Even when other phone companies started making attractive offers to me, I stayed with AT&T. I thought: "Even if they're gouging me, I'm racking up mileage."
See, a broke old man like me ends up with all too few joys in life and one of my greatest joys is a grandson named Noah. He lives with his mother and father in Van Nuys, California, some 3,000 miles away from me. You must've already seen Noah. I'll attempt to enclose a photograph of him, which might be familiar to you. Noah was the star of AT&T's "Snowbound" commercial. Noah is the essence of my vision of America. He's half-Jewish, one-quarter WASP, one-quarter Chinese and he's a direct descendant of John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, a signer of the Constitution of the United States of America who was one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War of 1776. Noah also has Emily Dickinson in his family tree. Noah is the apple of my eye.
So I was saving up my AT&T "True Value" points to turn into frequent flyer miles in my United Airlines "Miles Plus" account. I'd once before gotten a round-trip ticket to visit with Noah on my "True Value" points and I had no idea that United had canceled its contract with AT&T. Do I have to apologize once more for suspecting that AT&T did not properly notify its customers of that fact?
[Robert Armstrong is the chairman of AT&T. However, he apparently read neither of the two preceding letters. The first letter was intercepted by Mike Thoma, apparently one of Armstrong's assistants. The second letter, although highly repetitive of the first letter, was mailed back to me unopened, with "RTS" (Return To Sender) written on the envelope, apparently by the very same Mike Thoma, who refused to make any further concessions to me on the part of the phone company. So that's how AT&T treats a 70-year-old lifelong subscriber. Well, so much for AT&T!] ##
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