"The Computer" At AT&T Is All Powerful And Humans Have Lost Control!

Attention citizens: A machine known only as “the computer” has taken control of AT&T. The humans are powerless to control it — or even to negotiate with it. If it decides that you should be triple billed for phone numbers you don’t need or use, there’s nothing AT&T can do. Gather your children and all the salmonella-free peanut butter you own and report to your basement. Dunk your cellphones, DVRs, Apples and XBOXes into cold water before they rise up and destroy you like they’re destroying reader Patrick.

Patrick says:
In May, I broke my iPhone. I dropped it and it cracked. I sold it on eBay, expected new iPhones to be announced June 9 at the WWDC. When I found out I’d have to wait until July 11, I bought a Motorola Q, because all the stores were sold out of iPhones. I would wait for the 3G on July 11.

As the date got closer, I went back to the store and asked about my upgrade eligibility for the 3G. They informed me that since I just purchased a Motorola Q, I couldn’t get an iPhone – not at any price. This, we know now, is incorrect, but to fix matters I returned the Motorola in under 30 days and popped my SIM card in a buddy’s old RAZR for a couple weeks awaiting the new iPhone 3G’s. The sales guy at the store said this would cancel my contract obligation from the Motorola and I’d be eligible to get the new iPhone at the subsidized price.

On July 11, I went to my local AT&T store because I knew there would be trouble; my account online was showing me as upgrade ineligible. Despite everything they could see at the store (that I was, in fact, perfectly eligible to upgrade and get the new iPhone), the computer wouldn’t let the transaction happen. Someone at the other store didn’t do the right paperwork when I returned the Motorola Q, and it was causing an issue.

iPhones we’re selling out all around me, so the salesperson and manager said in order for me to get an iPhone that day, they would create a new line on my account, and then I was to return the following week when they’d have the block on my account removed, and move the iPhone over to the correct line, and delete the newly created line. I begrudgingly accepted this solution, and dealt with the hassle of having a different number for a week.

The next week I went in and they moved the iPhone to my old (correct) number, and said they’d do the paperwork to get the billing right – delete the new line, cancel the charges, and fix my bill.

In the interest of keeping this story simple, I’ll summarize it like this:

This never happened. To this day – nearly two months later and spanning three billing cylces – my account has a huge balance because I continue to be charged for the extra line they’ve added, and a family plan which I don’t need, and an iPhone data plan on the line they created (which, consequently, has no phone even associated with it – the voice and data usage is ZERO!).

I’ve spent countless hours in the store and on the phone and nothing has been done. They say they don’t know what to do. Customer service can’t change or modify my bill. They all say the same thing – the computer won’t let them remove the line or fix the billing. No one – managers, regional managers, etc. – can tell me what I need to do. My bill is climbing at three times the rate it should. The store has told me not to pay the bill until it’s fixed. I’ve never missed a payment but now my account is past due.

I’m just a regular guy, trying to pay my bill and be current. NO ONE IS HELPING ME. I leave messages and call for help and just continue to get the runaround. I want my account fixed so I can move on. I feel like I’m going to be shut off soon, and this will never be right!

Thanks for any help you can bring to this issue.


Even though we’re sure that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is currently quite busy machine gunning terminators in his executive bathroom, you should probably send his team an EECB. Perhaps there is still one man who can regain control of the computer before it shuts down the life support systems at AT&T…

Here’s his contact information.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Imakeholesinu says:

    iPhone, more hassle then it’s worth apparently.

  2. GMFish says:

    First, I’m not entirely sure why people willingly get screwed by those companies selling/leasing cell phones. If someone told me they cannot sell me something, I’d leave and never come back.

    Second, it’s becoming quite clear that getting a cell phone is more annoying than even buying a car. And that’s saying something.

    • Suttin says:


      So you wouldn’t go back to buy something you wanted even if it is sold out?

      And why did the OP just not borrow a phone from someone? then the store wouldn’t have known he bought a new phone and this whole hassle wouldn’t have happened.

  3. MikeF74 says:

    If you’re only going to need a phone for few weeks, why buy a heavily subsidized phone? Get the cheapest off-contract POS you can find, throw your SIM card in and just wait it out.

    I’m not saying what the OP did was wrong, because I’m not up on trade-in policies. But you had to know it was going to be a frustrating uphill battle.

  4. dragonfire81 says:

    I work for another wireless company and I know with us, our system doesn’t automatically restore your upgrade eligibility if you upgrade a phone and then return it within 30 days, you always have to go through customer service to the reversal done (and they aren’t always willing to do it).

    As a customer care rep I had access to the customer account/billing system the provider used and while there were a few things the system would not allow, when it came to setting up lines and plans there was pretty much nothing that could not be done. The fact they cannot credit you for this madness is more BS. Being able to put a credit through is a basic function of any billing system.

  5. adam_w says:

    I’m with MikeF74. Buying the Q with 5 weeks until the new iPhone was released was setting a complicated plan in motion that relied on all of it’s parts falling into place to work. I’m not necessarily siding with AT&T, but it’s up to us to evaluate proposed services and make an educated decision whether or not they’re practical. This was not a practical decision.

  6. nicemarmot617 says:


    I will never understand why people allow themselves to be repeatedly assraped by AT&T for the sake of a POS Apple product. I really don’t get it. Sure the iPhone is cool and all. I just fail to see how it’s worth the hassle when you can get a perfectly decent smartphone for WAY cheaper from a less evil telecom. I have an enV from Verizon – got it for $20. It has GPS, Google maps, gmail, and an internet browser. Sure it’s not as spiffy as the iPhone…but I’ve never had a single problem.

    A fool and his money shall soon be parted, as they say.

    • verazula says:

      @nicemarmot617: I don’t know what magical phone you’re talking about, but the EnV in my pocket barely does any of those things. Alright, so the Turn-by-turn nav is decent, but Google Maps? Gmail? I hurt so bad I couldn’t even laugh at what you call an “internet browser.”

      You might be getting “gmail” but whatever you are getting is a stripped-down, text-only version of everything. And this internet browser that Verizon is offering is worthless. Unless I’m navigating to a linked Verizon site, the browser is laughable; text is jumbled, images rarely show up, most websites are broken or you have to take 10 minutes to read them. It amazes me how Verizon threw away an opportunity to put every other cell phone service provider into bankruptcy by getting the iPhone.

      iPhone + Verizon = AT&T + T-Mobile + Sprint out of business.

      • verazula says:

        @verazula: and I’m sorry nicemarmot617 but “I’ve never had a single problem”? I’m on my 5th EnV after Verizon wouldn’t let me get rid of the POS after endless power cycling, dropped calls, fuzzy calls and slower-than-Dialup EVDO.

      • nicemarmot617 says:

        @verazula: Oh gee, I guess because you have problems with your phone, I must have been lying about mine!! Because I have so many reasons to say nice things about Verizon. I’m just a paid shill!! And Verizon will probably never have the iPhone. They are always at least a year behind all the other technology. With Verizon, an EnV is about as good as you can get. Sure it’s not as good as an iPhone – I didn’t say it was. I said it’s fine for me. And I’ve dropped my enV on the hardwood floor at my office dozens of times and it still works fine – I seriously doubt you’re on your 5th enV. Don’t make me out to be a liar because you have iPhone envy. Literally.

      • TechnoDestructo says:



        What’s that about text only whatever? I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand you with Steve Jobs’s dick in your mouth.

  7. bpclay says:

    I think the root of the issue is that ATT doesn’t know how to make sure an equipment purchase will not affect your upgrade eligibility; nor are the in-store on over-the-phone reps well versed enough to give the consumers their options in order to make an informed decision. There have been many good & useful suggestions on the comment thread (such as use an old phone and pop your SIM in) that would have saved the OP a lot of headaches. If we understand this, why can’t ATT train their reps to understand as well?

  8. MeOhMy says:

    I feel your pain. To date, i have never recovered the $120 worth of “Sidekick Service” billed on my wife’s line – which was NOT a Sidekick.

    I have concluded that asking a mobile provider (probably ANY service company, for that matter) to do anything beyond the standard next-button-clicking that they do in a normal day is like handing the F**kup Fairy a personal invitation to your next dinner party.

  9. dragonvpm says:

    I think this is one of those situations where the OP is probably freaking out a little bit more than necessary. I’m with Verizon and not so long ago there was a mix-up with my phones/plans/upgrades and I think it took a good 4 months to sort out. One person would do one thing, try to fix the problem, think they succeeded and then when the next bill came around it would still have an error so I’d call again etc…

    It can take a few cycles to sort these problems out but so long as the person is diligent in documenting who they spoke to (and when) and what was supposedly done, it will eventually get sorted out. I don’t think I’ve come across any company that won’t be patient when they see that you’ve been dealing with a problem for a couple (or more) billing cycles. It’s not fun, but you follow the standard practice of not beating up the CSRs, being consistent, and not blowing it off it’s not really that bad.

    Because of those problems I also try to stick to buying phones either online through Verizon or at one of their stores (so if anyone screws up they’re still Verizon employees). It’s not clear, but it sounds like the OP might have bought the Moto from a non AT&T store and I’m sure that can add a whole new level of complication to the situation.

  10. krispykrink says:

    I hate to say this, and understand I’m not bashing the guy. But he kinda did this to himself by breaking the screwed up “eligibility” system that AT&T put on the iPhone when he dumped his old one too soon and got a different phone. I truly hate the way Apple misled people into thinking that Steve Jobs word was worth its weight in Gold when he said in the keynote that the maximum price for the iPhone 3G would be $199. He said nothing about being eligible for subsidized pricing and all others are screwed.

  11. usmcmoran says:


  12. MrEvil says:

    When I wanted to upgrade from a Nextel iDen handset to a Sprint CDMA handset Sprint didn’t make things easy either, but not nearly as FUBAR as what the OP experienced. The problem was I just wanted to swap out my iDen service with a CDMA Moto Q. I figure since both companies had merged doing the switch wouldn’t be difficult….WRONG! It was easier for the Sprint rep to start me a new account, unfortuantely a new account was going to need a $150 deposit for some reason whereas my existing Nextel account had no deposit up to 12 lines.

    So what the guy at the store did was activate a new line on my existing account with the Q and after five hours on the phone later that evening I finally got my iDen number moved to the MotoQ. At least Sprint was a little faster than AT&T, I never got dinged for a ETF, and Sprint credited me a month’s service for the hassle. So aparrently Sprint hasn’t been taken over by the “computer”

    • dragonfire81 says:

      @MrEvil: I used to work for Sprint and I have seen accounts where you have no deposit for Sprint service but a deposit for Nextel service.

      It is PHENOMENALLY stupid, but it does happen.

      switching networks is actually very painless so long as you are dealing with a knowledgeable rep and there’s no pesky deposit involved.

  13. bkbkbk says:

    Dugg. I can’t believe that ATT reps can’t handle this kind of thing, especially considering how high up the ladder this guy went.


  14. Parapraxis says:

    I posted this before in gizmodo right after launch, but I figured some of you might get a good laugh out of it still, the hell I went through…

    What I had to go through to get mine:
    -Customer of AT&T for five years. Never upgraded, never renewed.
    -Sleep outside Apple store for 7 hours July 10th.
    -Get rejected for being a loyal AT&T customer (“Rate plan not supported,” even though I tried to change it.)
    -Go to AT&T store. Claims no problem getting iPhone.
    -Go back to Apple store. “Rate Plan not supported”
    -Go back to AT&T store. “rate plan not supported for upgrade.”
    -Call AT&T executive support. Says take it up with apple.
    -E-mail Steve Jobs.
    -Get blown off by Steve Jobs. Says take it up with AT&T.
    -E-mail Steve Jobs again. (“I’m trying to GIVE YOU my business. if you were in my shoes, what would you do?”)
    -Get phone call from Office of President of AT&T. Says he received my e-mail, forwarded from Steve Jobs.

    Get iPhone a few days later.

  15. newfenoix says:

    I have never had a problem with AT&T. I believe the core problem here is the damn iPhone. I haven’t dealt with Apple since the early 90’s. Their products were nightmarish then and they still are now. Also, I don’t lease my phones. I buy them out right. No contract extensions.

  16. ILoveVermont says:

    I’m with TroyF on this – the more of these horror stories I hear, the more I’m convinced that NO cell service provider has a clue as to what customer service is. My daughter’s cell phone is acting up, I went to buy a replacement (from Unicel) and was told I’d have to wait til mid-June to be able to buy a subsidized phone (it sounded right, as that was the one year anniversary of when I started the service). Of course, once July came around and I tried to buy the subsidized phone, I got the story that no, I’d have to wait until mid-September (they were claiming I had to wait 15 months, not 12). WTF? Thank god, only a couple of weeks to go, and I’ll get some other cock and bull story as to why I can’t buy a subsidized phone for her.

    As I’ve said here before about cable companies, it’s time to re-regulate them (or just plain regulate, in the case of cell phone companies). This kind of nonsense has to stop, and it’ll only stop when there are public regulators that can legally fine these companies (oligopolies) for their shenanigans.

  17. starrion says:

    The fundemental problem here is very simple: Subsidized handsets.

    All of this stupidity is about the cell companies keeping customers long enough to profit from giving them an expensive handset.

    Compatible networks, and BYOH would mean the end of this customer service torture.

  18. Segador says:

    Honestly, what the hell did this guy expect? Trying to buy a phone, return it, get a line-cancel, open a new line… just to get an iPhone? Is his life really that dictated by his desire for a product?

    • wattznext says:

      @Segador: What does it say about the current state of affairs that the process you outlined is looked upon as a “complicated” process that one should not expect to go smoothly?

  19. karmaghost says:

    I’ve had a similar problem; I have a family plan with two lines and even though those two lines are included in the monthly price, the 2nd was being charged $9.99 anyway.

  20. the-perfect-face-for-radio says:

    they say that freedom isn’t free. you know what else isn’t free? being a jaunty, stylish, uber-hip, ultra-cool early adopter, that’s what.

    i think you mishandled the early part of the sequence by adding unnecessary complexity. getting the motorola q, adding a new line to your at&t account – complexity is not your friend in telecom arrangements. here are several options for your consideration:

    inside the apple or at&t store, you can play it two ways. one way is to beg, plead, whine, truckle, get down on your knees if you have to. they love it when you do this, but at some point they’ll get tired of it and fix your account just to make you go away. frankly, this isn’t my style, so i start out perfectly reasonable and polite, explain the problem, ask for their assistance. if this doesn’t work, i go to second gear, where i’m the customer, and i’m issuing a valid, reasonable order which it’s the rep’s job to comply with. i have told reps “i am your customer, my time is valuable, i have issued my order, so i expect to see you hop like a bunny. chop-chop. start moving your ample, nay, impressive derriere over to your station to perform your assigned function now.” if this doesn’t work, third gear is where i holler at them fortissimo. sometimes this works. i consider it to be operant conditioning after the fashion of the famous psychologist b. f. skinner. the people who have seen me in third gear know that it’s worth a little extra love and appreciation next time to keep me in first gear.

    inside or outside the store, two more options. consider the permanent withdrawal of custom (pwc), where you will no longer do business with a firm for the rest of your life. your custom is valuable to your vendor, right? there are alternative vendors, right? if your vendor is treating you as if your custom is worthless, then your vendor is broken, right? worst of all, if you cannot summon within yourself the initiative to do a pwc, then you are in lifetime thrall to your vendor, and it is your miserable fate to endure whatever abuse your vendor cares to dish out, right? the other general option is to purchase a jailbroken iphone from ebay or somewhere and avoid at&t entirely.

    best of luck to you sir.

  21. EmperorOfCanada says:

    I agree with Starrion.. I work in the Canadian Telecom industry, and life would be much simpler on both sides of the border if the companies simply did not subsidize handsets.

    I see it all the time, consumers often find it hard to grasp the true value of an expensive piece of electronics. They cant fathom why a “Free” phone, will cost them $250 to replace.

    If consumers had to pay full price for a handset to begin with they might gain a greater appreciation of their device, and treat it with more respect.

    The benefit to the consumer of course is NEVER being locked into a contract!

  22. Imakeholesinu says:

    Bad press day for AT&T.

  23. jinjin1080 says:

    Honestly, the OP was just ASKING for trouble the way when he bought the Q knowing that he would return it for an iPhone later, then letting the salesman/manager try to beat the system by doing that line-swap thing.

    iPhone’s not nearly worth all this hassle.

  24. RandomHookup says:

    This “computer” must be connected to the “register” at my local retailers because they tell me all the time that the “register” won’t let them do something—usually involving a coupon or a cheaper price for me. I’m so glad the machines are running things now.

  25. vastrightwing says:

    I must commend all of you who have been through hell and back and shared your story. It has definitely kept me from trying it myself. I just don’t deal with pain well. I would like to buy an internet phone like the Instinct or ITC touch, but the risk is not worth it.

    My thought process is that the risk of having the phone company mess up my bill for 6- 7 months and the accompanying hassle that will ensue, is just is not worth it. Of course the sales people tell you that you have 30 days to return the phone. What they don’t tell you is that to undo the mess you just created is almost undoable. Before you do anything that will possible change your automated billing, think of the hassle you will have trying to correct the resulting mess. Sure, I have Sprint and everyone of us knows the result of changing your bill. It’s hell. AT&T and T-mobile are about the same. The risk of updating your phone is not worth the headache.

    Instead, I opt to buy an outdated phone on eBay and do an ECN swap. Better yet, if you have a GSM phone, simply take your SIM card out of the old phone and put in your new unlocked phone. Don’t buy a new/locked phone that requires a contract. It is not worth the aggravation.

  26. kc2idf says:

    May I suggest another direction?

    It is clear that AT&T is not upholding their end of the contract. Demand that all contract obligations be cancelled, get it in writing that they are, and give up on the iPhone until Apple extracts their collective crania from their collective recta and opens up to other carriers.

  27. Anticitizen says:

    I know I kind of hate pimping my own site, but I wrote a nice piece on the iPhone 3G that might be relevant to this situation.


    Knowing that you can freely swap SIMs between iPhone 3Gs and normal AT&T phones once the iPhone is activated, in theory, you could open a new line (I believe it’s $40 for a new iPhone line), go into AT&T’s online system, strip off the data plan from the new line, and at most you are paying only an extra $10 a month.

    Inefficient, I know, but if you are desperate for an iPhone, it’s a quick and dirty solution.

  28. BadAxe says:

    I work with all three major cell providers every day. I manage corporate accounts with hundreds of users and individual plans that are employee-reimbursed. Far and away, AT&T offers the worst customer service and has the most screwed up internal systems.

    I have a few horror stories with VZW and Sprint/Nextel, but I have literally DOZENS of nightmares with AT&T. I will take any opportunity to tell people to stay away from them at all costs. That cool Apple toy is not worth the headaches you will inevitably get from AT&T.

  29. Zimorodok says:

    How’s this on-the-spot telecom law for a start:

    If your statement contains an error for 3 or more consecutive billing cycles, and you have documented that you brought it to the cellco’s attention propmtly, you can drop the contract without an ETF. Period.

    Are you listening, Congress?

  30. PMelt says:

    I’m the original poster.

    I like how everyone is jumping on me with the basic argument of “you should have known that they couldn’t do what they said they could do.” How is that a valid state or expectation of service?

    The rest of you need to learn to read. I didn’t buy the Q with the intention of returning it. I just misunderstood the process of subsidized upgrades with the iPhone. Maybe I made a mistake, but regardless, service and the rectifying of this situation isn’t a crazy thing to expect.

    THEY created the new line – not me. THEY told me that was the easiest way to get this handled.

  31. Segador says:

    @wattznext – It’s called being a realist. If I had an airline ticket that I need to exchange, but had bought a “backup” ticket in the meantime, and then wanted them all cancelled and refunded, I’d realistically expect no shortage of difficulties, even if in theory this process should be simple.

  32. dantsea says:

    “The computer says…” or “The computer won’t let me…” are the two most enraging starts of a sentence to ever issue forth from a customer service rep’s mouth. Total disownment of the issue, total apathy. There is a reason something is happening, the rep or supervisor is supposed to know what that reason is and have at least one alternative available. Blaming it on The Computer is just weaksauce.

  33. PDX909 says:

    I’m not bashing the OP, but I’ve got no sympathy for him either. We’ve been seeing stories about how shitty AT&T and Apple customer service has been for over a year now and still people line up to hand over hard earned money to them. Good luck and all but you could have seen this coming.

  34. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    The thing I hate about all the phone plans available to me at the moment is that I have a 450 minute plan with rollover and unlimited in-network calling. The only people I call on a regular basis is my boyfriend and my parents, both of whom are in network. Out of my 450 minutes I use about 50 every month, and probably about 300 in-network minutes. I’m stuck paying $50 a month for something I’m barely even using, and it sucks.

    • SpdRacer says:

      @Oranges w/ Cheese: I have to agree, I have had no issues with my phone/service, but I wish they offered plans with fewer minutes. I think I currently have over 1500 rollover minutes, plus the 450 I get every month. On average I probably use 200-250 min/month. I put a hurting on their unlimited texts though, I get all my teams scores, plus weather in addition to the regular texting to friends and fam.

  35. Parting says:

    Wow, you really need a good plan, and compensation, for all of your troubles. That’s just sheer incompetence.

    If 1 employee would follow up on the case, none of that would have happened.

  36. matt21411 says:

    @verazula: You should have never had to stick with the enV after you have had 3 problems in within 90 days. Verizon has what they call a Multi FRU. Once you have a problem with the 3rd phone, they can offer you a comparable phone free of charge.

  37. parrotuya says:

    AT&T is evil! I am waiting for Android because I will not deal with the evil AT&T behemoth. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, all cable, internet, print, telephone and television media are controlled by a rival company other than AT&T. It is the lesser of evil.

  38. mrrbob says:

    Why do people put up with AT&T? For the iPhone? Give me a break. Apple fanboys/girls are getting exactly what you deserve from apple and AT&T. Just bend over and take it like the apple fanboy slut you are.