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