Friday, January 8, 2010

AT&T and a CB radio that runs XP...

My journey each day is a perilous one it seems. Each and every day I am faced with troubles and problems that need to be handled with the most delicate of care. Being the pure diplomat that I am, this comes naturally for me. But, that isn't what this story is about. This story is about something else. Sort of.

About 2 1/2 years ago I was in the midst of a somewhat bitter divorce. Sparing you details, during that time I shut off my cable, phone, and pretty much anything else that wasn't necessary in my house to try to save myself some money for legal bills and other expenses. I also wasn't very certain about my permanence at this residence, so I saw no sense in spending more than I needed to. I suppose that annoyed my ex, too. She was living here at the time. I suppose she may have been a titch upset that these things were working one day and shut off the next. But, as sweet as that was, that wasn't the true motivation behind it. I needed to save a couple bucks every month, and turning off the frills was a great way.

I lived in my house with little or nothing to do in the evening for a month or two and I was pretty bored. I had friends, but few people want to go and hang out in the middle of a divorce. I didn't really feel like doing much at the time other than enjoying a little solitude. But, I got bored. I went into my office at work one evening and was goofing off on the internet for a while and I looked to see about how much my wireless phone bill was going to be for the month. On the front page at was a special promotion boldly proclaiming cheap, reliable, fast internet service that was bundled with your mobile phone service. I read about it and it almost sounded too good to be true.

There was an initial start up fee and equipment cost of about $150. After that was bought, it added about $39 per month to my mobile phone bill for unlimited service. There was a 2 year service agreement with a free 30 day trial period. It sounded really fair. It sounded like fun to have the mobility of wireless internet. To be completely honest, the more I read about it, the more impressed I was. It seemed like a great deal.

The next morning I called customer service at AT&T to talk to a real live person and ask them if what I read the prior night was true. The woman on the phone was very pleasant and she assured me that what I read was indeed true. I could have fully portable internet with speeds faster than the DSL I had on my land line previously at home. I asked how reliable it was. She told me that they never have reliability trouble with it. I asked how good the service would be in my area. She told me that my area has perfect service. She told me that she uses the same wireless service herself and she really likes it (she lived in Atlanta, BTW).

Without further ado I ordered it. Charge me up. Plug me in. Bring it on.

I waited for 4 days more or less foaming at the mouth by the mailbox for it to arrive. Then it came [trumpets and fanfare in background]. I tore open and box and inside is what looked like half of a graham cracker covered in circuits. I raced into my office where my laptop was waiting. I put it in. I fired it up. My laptop found the card. My laptop was searching for the network. Searching. Searching. Nothing happened. Hmm. I looked in the box and found the install CD. I wondered if their wireless card may only work with their software? Hmm. I installed AT&T's proprietary software. I rebooted. Then, nothing happened. I moved my laptop toward the window thinking I could get a cleaner signal. It made no difference. I moved it outside into my pickup. No change. What was I doing wrong?

I called customer support and the gentleman attempted to help me by running me through all sorts of tests [Most of which I already tried. I think some of the tests were solely to kill time and piss me off]. The computer knew the card was there. The software was functioning properly. The card could not find the signal of the network. I was on the phone with this technician for over an hour. We could not get it to connect. He told me to wait until the following day and leave the computer turned on because maybe it needs to find the network and update. I was irritated, but agreed.

The next day I got to work and one of the first things I did was check on the laptop to see if it was connected yet. It was not. I called customer support again. This time, a woman answered and she was very pleasant. She wanted us to do some tests. These were the same tests I told her that me and the other technician had done the night before. She said that it didn't matter because the card was searching for the network and she needed to know why it wasn't working and that this should only take a couple minutes.

After about one more hour on the phone, she decided that the card I received in the mail must be faulty. She told me to send it back to AT&T, and when they receive it, they will test it and send me out another card. Or, she said, she can send a card right away, but she would have to charge me for both cards until they get the returned card back. I opted to sent it back and wait for the new card since my enthusiasm for this project was beginning to dim a little. Well, a lot.

Six days later another box came in the mail and inside was a new card. I raced into my office ready to tackle the world one byte at a time. I fired up my laptop. I installed the software (again). I inserted the card. Windows found the card. And then, nothing happened. It couldn't find the network. Bloody hell. Nothing happened at all. There was no change. I moved to the window with my laptop. Nothing happened. Again.

I called customer support again trying desperately to mask my sarcastic rage. On the phone this time was a nice man. I quizzed him about what I could possibly be doing wrong. He wanted to do some tests but assured me that the test would only take a couple minutes. So, again (although I was protesting), I did an hour of tests. Still it refused to connect. He said maybe it needs to find the network and that I should leave my laptop turned on until tomorrow and see if it finds the network. I reluctantly agreed.

The next morning, I got into my office and popped open the screen on my laptop. By now my expectations were substantially lower. I hoped for a found but then lost internet connection. I hoped for a failed download. I hoped to have some blip of activity. I hoped for an error. I hoped for a hard drive failure. I hoped for fly shit on the screen. Something. Anything. Again, there was nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. Still searching. Searching. Searching.

I called customer support. A nice fellow answered. He told me he would like to run some tests. I told him I was really not in the mood for tests anymore. I told him that I was all tested out. He expressed his sincere apology, but informed me that he could not make the card function per design without these tests. I said nothing. He suggested that maybe the building I was in was blocking the signal or causing interference. He suggested I consider getting an external antenna for the wireless card.

I thought about it for a second and wondered if he could be right. I mean, I had moved my laptop towards the window and outside to my truck, but maybe I didn't wait long enough. Could this be the problem? I asked the nice fellow where I could get this mystical "antenna." He said that they didn't sell them since the manufacturer didn't recommend them for the card I had. He said "If it were mine, I would ebay it." I thought to myself "Damn right. I WILL ebay it." So I looked online. I found an antenna. I was $40 with free shipping and had boasted a great signal boost. I looked the brand up online and it seemed to be a decent brand. So, I ordered it.

Eleven days later my antenna arrived. It looked to be something that was purchased at Fleet Farm. It had a magnetic base and a 24" whip. I had about 30 feet of cable attached to it. I was in disbelief that this crude antenna could be a solution to any sort of problem. It looked like it should be bolted either to the roof of a semi tractor or the to the mirror of a mid-seventies Dodge van. Well, it is worth a shot, I thought. I trampled into my office. I grabbed my laptop. I hooked it up. I waited. I began to laugh. I began to laugh hysterically. I looked at my laptop and realized that I just turned a sophisticated electronic device into something that looks like a one foot square CB radio that runs Windows XP. I drip of sweat had formed at my brow. And then, it had signal. It showed signal! [Trumpets and fanfare in background!] I waited a second. I tried to surf. But, nothing happened. It showed signal. It showed that it was connected, but it wouldn't load a page. I had nothing but a white screen.

I called customer support. I told then all about my problems. The wonderful woman I spoke with on the phone told me that if I am using an antenna and it isn't a manufacturer's antenna that I could void the warranty of the wireless card. I told her it was an antenna that was manufactured by the same company that built the wireless card so it should be fine. She told me I must be mistaken, because the company does not make an antenna for that card. Shit. Busted. I panicked like a deer in headlights and hung up on her.

I called customer support back and this time a guy answered. I told him about what had happened so far [omitting that I was using an antenna] and he extended his most sincere apology for my trouble. He told me he needed to run some tests, but that the tests would only take a few minutes. I thought "Here we go again." One hour later, I was done with the tests. Still, it didn't work. He suggested I leave my computer on overnight in case the card needs more time to find the network and update. So, I did, figuring that since I showed some signal now, maybe he was right this time.

The next day, I got up to work and looked at my laptop. I showed signal, but nothing looked like it changed. I tried to use the internet, but it didn't work. I was staring at a white, blank screen since the page wouldn't load. By now, my patience was at its end. I called customer support again and this time I wanted to get a return authorization for the card. I was done. I had enough. I was at the end. The gentleman on the phone was very patient with me despite my hostility. He said we needed to run a couple tests quick and make sure something wasn't wrong with the configuration of the card. I refused. I said I want to send this thing back because it doesn't work. I told him my whole story of frustration and failure. I told him that I told there was no internet worth this much aggravation. I told him a lot of things.

After a couple minutes of offering me his most sincere apologies, he paused. He asked "Is your address 750 Dutch Lake Drive?" I said "Yes." He said "Is that in Howard Lake?" I said "Yes." He said "Minnesota?" I said "Yes, why?" He said "Well, that is an area that has been reported as what we like to call a 'bubble.'" I asked "What is a bubble?" He said "A 'bubble' is an area that has little or no connectivity with our network." He continued "I am surprised that whoever sold you the card didn't mention it. You won't be able to connect there very well or at all. Is the computer at your house?" I answered "Yes." He asked "Is there any way to move the computer either 400 yards south or 600 yards north?" I told him that I didn't think so. I informed him that I was sad to report that I couldn't move my fucking house either A: Into the goddamn lake or B: Onto the middle of the fucking highway to make his signal better.

He said that he could understand why I was upset and that he didn't understand why the person who sold me the card hadn't made me aware of this problem at my location. I told him that my home address is on the bill. My home address is on the fucking account. Funny how NOBODY there noticed it after hours and hours on the phone and multiple calls and still with no service. He said he would send out a postage paid label for the card's return. He said he would cancel the service. He apologized again. I hung up still furious, but glad it was over.

Four days later an envelope came from AT&T. Inside was a postage paid label that I promptly stuck onto the box. Later that day I went into town and stopped by the post office to mail the box. I felt a wave of relief as I dropped the box off. Here in this box was a thing that caused me endless anger and discontent for almost a month, and now it is gone. Whew.

A few weeks past and I got bill in the mail from AT&T. There were charges on my bill for wireless "Connect" card. I thought it must be an oversight, but I called customer service anyway. The woman I got on the phone was courteous enough, but she was firm in stating that I signed a contract for service. I argued that I never got my card to work at all. She said "Mr. Miller, I am looking at your usage right here. You used this device. It connected to our network." I told her maybe it transferred some data, but it never worked like I was told it would. She asked what I meant. She asked if I meant that it didn't work at all, or did it just not work well? I told her it looked as if it was connected, but I couldn't load pages with it. She asked if I told a customer support representative about this issue.

[White knuckles. Fists clenched.] I told her that I had spent HOURS on the phone with customer service [as my blood pressure goes to 200 and my gums are bleeding from me gritting my teeth]. She said "Then why didn't you cancel this within your 30 day trial period?" I asked her what she meant. She read off the terms of my agreement. I told her I was well aware of the terms in regard to the 30 day free trial, but I cancelled my service before thirty days. She argued that I didn't. She said "I have it right here in front of me. It's 32 days." I told her that was impossible. I said I counted off the days when I cancelled and I know I had a few days to spare after my last call to cancel, and at that time I sent the card back. She said that my service didn't officially cancel until they received the wireless card back and verify that it wasn't damaged. She said she wasn't authorized to cancel this account when it was past its 30 days trial. She said I could opt for early termination of my service plan, but that would cost $275.

So, to make a long story less long, after spending another hour on the phone and talking with her supervisor's supervisor, my account was credited. My service was cancelled. My life was restored to normal in regards to internet service.

All in all I think I could say my experience with AT&T's wireless internet service was pretty good, as long as you know that when I say "pretty good" that I mean that they are liars, cheats, thieves, and morons. They lack knowledge about their products and services, and they are stupid beyond all help. They are useless beyond all description, and I hope they contract something itchy and rashy that there is no salve or treatment for yet.

If you know somebody looking for a good used wireless internet card antenna, I have one. But seriously, I don't. I may have taken a portion of my aggression out on the one I had. But that is a different story.


  1. I just took a job as a telemarketer for AT&T, I was wondering if I could have your phone number.

  2. Watch out for those deals where the big print giveth and the small print taketh away.