SBC/AT&T DSL: Is A Bad Connection Breach Of Contract?

Brand new reader Jim writes in with an interesting complaint. He’s recently signed up for AT&T DSL, but after experiencing quite a few problems, the techs had to lower the speed of his connection to get it to work. At the time they did this they assured Jim that he would see the change reflected in his bill. From his email:

    “It will be lower?” I asked, skeptical. “Oh, yeah. I mean you paid for one thing, you’re getting less of it, you’ll be credited.”

    Not so! AT&T insists that since I am on their lowest-priced DSL option that they can do nothing more for me. “So, you’re charging me the same amount of money for less service?” “Yes, if you want to think of it that way.” “Yeah, I do. Well, I guess that breaks our contract then since I’m neither getting what I signed up for nor a fair rate for what I am getting.” That didn’t fly either, they assured me I would be charged every early termination fee they possibly could.

Does lowering a connection beyond their ability to charge for it constitute breach of contract? Jim isn’t getting what he’s paying for. What should he do? He might try bargaining with AT&T. If he really can’t get a reduced rate, maybe there are some features he could get for free. If they’re not willing to negotiate, it’s time to escalate. Ask for the supervisor. Tell them they are not providing the service you are paying for and you expect compensation. Say “Work with me here.” Don’t give up! —MEGHANN MARCO

Jim’s email inside.

Jim writes:

    Ben, I’m so glad to have found your site, which I accomplished through lifehacker.com. The Verizon .002 thing really grabbed me, as I have had so many dismal experiences with basically every single utility or service provider I’ve dealt with over the last few years. I’ll spare you the lengthy list of just 2006 highlights of “customer service”, which would include Dish Network, Maxis (The SimCity people), Sprint (many times over), DirecTV, AOL, several companies who make infant toys, 2 insurance companies, an urgent care clinic, our local hospital, 2 apartment management companies, and a copier toner scam, free trips to Cancun and Nassau, and skip to my most recent, and current, issue with AT&T:

    Over the summer, I stationed our PC in the dining room on the table. We never used the table, and keeping the computer in the bedroom didn’t work because of my late hours and the fact that my wife was really in need of sleep, having just given birth to our first child. Anyway, I used the computer a lot, AOL dial-up was more expensive than SBC/AT&T DSL, so we switched. I ordered the service, including caller id and call waiting because I “had to”, and was fine. Waited on the modem… and waited… found out they had delivered it to the wrong address. I asked them to rush it to my office, since they shipped it UPS and I knew someone would be around to accept the delivery. It arrived at my home a week later. I set it up in the dining room and all was well.

    Eventually, my wife couldn’t take it anymore, and figured if I was going to be up all night on the computer, she’d at least like me to be in the same room as her. So, moved the PC back to the bedroom. I hooked the DSL back up and nothing happened. I assumed our jack or line was screwed up, so I called maintenance. Everything with that was fine they said, but still no phone or internet… Finally, after wading through the flashing 12 script AT&T put me through, I got to a person who just wanted to know what my problem was. A week later, a tech came and fixed everything while I was at work.

    My wife calls me and simply says “You’re not going to be happy…here’s the tech’s name…” The internet still didn’t work. After the tech assured her that it did. I came home, called in again, went through the ridiculous “Self Help Tools”, eventually convinced the guy to look at the packet loss. A tech came a week later. This time, rather than my wife calling, he called me. The connection speed on my line had to be slowed down so it would work, and we would see that change reflected in our bill. “It will be lower?” I asked, skeptical. “Oh, yeah. I mean you paid for one thing, you’re getting less of it, you’ll be credited.”

    Not so! AT&T insists that since I am on their lowest-priced DSL option that they can do nothing more for me. “So, you’re charging me the same amount of money for less service?” “Yes, if you want to think of it that way.” “Yeah, I do. Well, I guess that breaks our contract then since I’m neither getting what I signed up for nor a fair rate for what I am getting.” That didn’t fly either, they assured me I would be charged every early termination fee they possibly could.

    That’s where we stand as of tonight, hope your readers can help, and I can join in the comments. So many people are going through what I’ve already done with so many companies. I’m thinking of either writing a book, or starting a “customer dis-service” firm of some sort, which will be me dealing with stupid customer service jerks on behalf of people who don’t have time for it (for a fee, because I don’t either!)

    Regardless of the “worthiness” of this submission, I appreciate what you do and even though all I’ve got is a MySpace profile, I’ll post your link wherever I find the opportunity, it’s a great service to us “little guys”.

    Happy Holidays! (hope you get stuff that works without csr support!)

    Jim

Comments

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  1. bluegus32 says:

    The question of whether this is a breach of contract depends on the terms of the contract itself. Since we don’t have the contract in front of us, it would be impossible to determine whether this is in fact a breach of the written contract.

    Likewise, the tech he spoke to also would have no idea of whether this is a breach so hiw little threat of early termination fees is the functional equivalent of blowing smoke up the customer’s skirt.

    Speaking intuitively, however, I would say that this certainly does reek. And I would also say that this is definitely a situation that would warrant termination of the contract without imposition of the early termination fee. There are many legal arguments that can be had which I won’t go into here.

    My first suggestion would be to do what Megghan suggested — go higher up. Talk to supervisors. Keep going higher until someone capitulates.

    If they absolutely refuse and continue to be jerks about it, then file a small claims action. It’s a beautiful way to get a big company to take you really seriously.

  2. Smoking Pope says:

    Hey, take a play out of this guy’s playbook:

    http://www.consumerist.com/consumer/customer-service/man-s

    Sue AT&T in small claims court, have them served at some podunk retail store, and collect $3,000 in small claims court.

    Pay for the early termination with the 3 grand, and switch to a provider that doesn’t have their collective head up their collective ass.

  3. This story is a little confusing.

    First of all, you DO NOT have to get caller ID or other phone packages to have dial up or DSL from SBC/AT&T..you only have to have phone service(even that may not be necessary due to new legislation I believe…). We, personally, have the bare minimum phone plan for like $15/month, plus the $15/month 3mb DSL…no caller id, no bells, no whistles.

    Secondly, I think it mentions in the contract with SBC/AT&T that DSL speeds are not guaranteed, since your speed is proportionate to your distance to a repeating station. If your close, like me, you can expect 90-95% of the “max” speed quoted by SBC/AT&T. If you are far or live in an older building with older wiring, like I’m guessing Jim does, you will not get the speeds suggested by SBC/AT&T.

    My suggestion, if speed is your need, would be to get a cable internet service from the likes of Concast. It’s ridiculous expensive, but the cable should be newer wires and therefore capable of higher speeds.

    so I called maintenance. Everything with that was fine they said, but still no phone or internet… How did you call them? Cell phone? You mentioned that when you set up the DSL in the dining room, all was well, but the bedroom was botched. Could it be, that you have a bad line running to the bedroom? Don’t know if you can do this, but try pulling new phone wire to the exchange (usually in the basement).

  4. d0x says:

    Here’s what you do…

    Contact the BBB and file a complaint, simple, effective and chances are your contract will be void or they will somehow charge you less.

  5. d0x says:

    I have a couple things to add, sorry for the double post.

    First off you should always look for smaller DSL companies in your area. Often times you can bargain with them for faster speeds or lower price. When I got DSL i got them to drop the price by $10 a month and boost the speed from 256/256 kbps to 768/768 kbps. The company leased their service from Verizon who charged more and offered less speed.

    Next up did they give you some reason for the DSL not working correctly? I had some issues with my DSL which were corrected by line filters.

    I was right on the edge of the DSL limit, in fact i was 1 mile beyond and I still got excellent service and speed with zero contract and a free modem.

  6. misskaz says:

    The terrible service I got from SBC/AT&T regarding their DSL was the reason I switched to cable internet and am now a happy (really!) Comcast customer.

  7. rekoil says:

    I hate to plug individual companies, but I’m a longtime satisfied customer…see if Speakeasy DSL is available in your area. They offer a “OneLink” service that unlike AT&T’s DSL, does not require you to have dialtone phone service on the wire pair the DSL is delivered on.

    Then, port your home phone number to a VoIP carrier (Vonage or SunRocket are good choices, I have Vonage service myself). Chances are you’ll wind up paying less than what you’re paying today for AT&T dialtone + DSL, and Speakeasy’s tech support is vastly superior.

  8. Speakeasy is the cat’s pajamas… Their speed test is great too.

  9. littlemonster says:

    I totally third Speakeasy, they rock.

    My experience with SBC or whatever they are called today was also DISMAL. I was billed twice each month for 13 months for my DSL service. Each month I had to call back and get transferred to a hundred different people to have the charges reversed and each month I would be told that it wouldn’t happen again.

    The only reason it stopped happening is because I canceled all of my services with them. I switched to cell phone only, and even got rid of my AT&T wireless phone and went with another company because of this.

  10. loraksus says:

    I worked for a few DSL providers and there was always a “we only guarantee something ridiculously slow (slower than a 56k modem) even though all our advertising, the name of the package, your bill, et al implied that you were going to get better speeds”

    Go through BBB or your public utilities commission

  11. Jesse in Japan says:

    Just how slow is it going? Use CNET’s bandwidth meter and let us know.

  12. brkl says:

    I’d wager the contracts are worded in such a way that AT&T could send him a box of raisins monthly and not breach the contract.

  13. bravo says:

    Speakeasy is great, but if you’re looking to save money, then they may not be the best choice. They’re pretty pricey.

  14. Jim says:

    Wow, thanks everyone!

    crayonshinobi: According to them, you most certainly DO have to get some additional services with DSL. There were a few options, I picked call waiting and caller ID, and I don’t remember what my other options were.

    I know speeds aren’t guaranteed, but automatically being limited by their line or equipment doesn’t seem to fit to me. I could be wrong…like bluegus said, might not break the contract, but definitely stinky.

    And in reference to your last paragraph, I called our apartment complex maintenance from work. The internal lines and equipment are all capable of supporting this service…I’m not the first, only, or last, tenant who has it.

    I’ll check out Speakeasy, how bad can it be, relatively speaking?!?! Thanks everyone for that tip.

    I don’t know how much slower it is now, but definitely noticable. The phone support people said something like “wow” when they looked at it post-slow down.

    Maybe I can at least play this into getting the call waiting/caller id part of the package dropped off my bill.

  15. Jim says:

    Oh! And brkl: That’s probably accurate, especially since I hate raisins.

    I’ll do the CNet test and go over my contract again tonight and update you.

  16. MarkTomin says:

    Just cancel the contract with them, it should be cheaper than having a horrible service for one year. This might scare them and make them offer you a deal you cannot refuse :)

    T1-T3-DSL is the place to buy discount T1, Fractional T1, Dedicated lines, Point to Point Data, Voice T1 DS3 lines, T3 connection, OC3 lines, and DSL service, an unbiased bandwidth broker with free consultations.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Don’t move from the state of California if you have SBC/At&t -Sbc Internet Services.

    I had to move and end the service. I told At&t that I would be more than happy to continue using their services at my new address.

    At&t stated that they could not provide services at this new location.

    No where in our agreement does it say that I must remain at the same address.

    Therefore I hold AT&T in default concerning our agreement.

    It is my position that I owe At&t nothing and At&t is paid in full.

    I have been sent to collection agency:
    1. Fms Inc
    2. Enhanced Recovery Corporation
    3. Jefferson Capital Systems

    I am so Sorry for moving from California.

    Thanks for ruining my credit.