AT&T Lying about Dish Network HD DVRs?

Like all decent Americans, I loath Time Warner and decided to cancel my cable and get satellite service through AT&T, who are a Dish Network reseller.

I called AT&T to get basic information, specifically: Can I lease two HD DVRs, one for each TV? The AT&T rep said they had a new HD DVR that would output to two HDTVs, and it could be leased. We added up the service costs and it came to about $30 per month less than Time Warner. I said I’d think about it. After one final, futile attempt to contact Time Warner tech support (I gave up after 30 minutes of holding), I bit the bullet. The next day, I called AT&T again and re-verified the costs and technical information. This rep also assured me the HD DVR would provide HD content and DVR service to two TVs. I ordered.

Today the installer showed up – he worked for Dish Network directly. I ask him how the whole-house HD business works, and he tells me it doesn’t. It’s HD to one TV, and standard-def to the second TV. I say, well, AT&T told me otherwise on two occasions. He shakes his head and says, “AT&T tells all their customers that. It’s not true. I’ve told them this a million times.” So with the installer there, I call AT&T back, and after holding 10 minutes (funny how there’s ALWAYS an unusually high call volume), an AT&T rep answers. I put him on speaker and ask him whether the Dish Network HD DVR outputs HD content and DVR service to two HDTVs. He says yes, absolutely. And I respond, “Well, the Dish Network is here on my couch and he says otherwise.” They argue for a few minutes, and the AT&T guy puts us on hold and calls Dish Network himself. They get back on the line, the AT&T rep and the Dish Network rep. The Dish Network rep explains that the HD DVR does NOT output HD to both TVs, only one. To get HD DVR on both TVs, I will have to purchase a second HD DVR for $598. They will not lease a second HD DVR under any circumstances, even if I pay the lease charge. I say no thanks, and I say to the AT&T rep on the line, “It would be helpful if AT&T understood the products it sells better,” and he says, “Yes, sir, that’s true.”

The installer leaves after telling me that “about 50%” of AT&T referrals for two HDTVs go down this way – AT&T routinely tells its customers that the HD DVRs it leases send HD content to both TVs. He said it happens all the time, both over the telephone and via door-to-door AT&T salesmen.

I call AT&T back and punch through to the complaints line. Yet another rep picks up, and I ask whether their HD DVR will send HD content to 2 TVs. She assures me they absolutely will. And I say, “Well, that’s why I’m calling.” I explain the whole story to her, she puts me on hold for 5 minutes and comes back and says, geez, you know, you’re right about that. Our internal documents are all wrong. I’ll make sure they get updated.” I should add that she was very friendly and responsive and seemed sincere in her apology and vow to get the problem fixed.

Now, the thing is, I had 2 Dish Network representatives tell me that AT&T has been telling this lie routinely for months on end, and they have been told over and over it’s not true, and they keep saying it. And in my one little sampling of 4 reps, all 4 got it wrong, for a glittering failure rate of 100%. And it wasn’t miscommunication, because I always phrased my question crystal-clear, and they always gave an unambiguous (but completely false) answer. Every time. In fact, the complaints rep didn’t even believe me when I told her the HD DVR outputs standard def to 1 TV until I told her I had pulled up the accurate DVR PDF from their website and was staring at it while I spoke.

Both Dish Network reps told me the same thing: AT&T reps deliberately lie about Dish Network’s HD DVR capability to get commissions, and don’t care whether the service visits are cancelled. My guess is that a fair portion of these cases end up with the lied-to customer going with Dish Network anyway, either by buying a second DVR or settling for standard def on one TV. It’s a bait and switch, and I believe it’s deliberate, and I bet it’s illegal. It’s possible they’re merely incompetent, but I have a hard time believing, after all these months, that they truly do not understand the most basic fact about how their premier DVR operates.

Just to put this in perspective, I believed Time Warner had the worst customer service in the history of the galaxy, and AT&T turned out actually to be even worse. Way to go, AT&T! You must be proud. You’re even worse than Time Warner. And everybody said it couldn’t be done.


How very interesting. Has anyone else had this experience? Tell us about it in the comments or email us at tips [at] consumerist [dot] com.