Posts Tagged ‘ATT’

Fun with ATT Support

Since I know a few people follow my ongoing saga with ATT on this blog, I thought I’d chronicle the latest. Yesterday our U-verse phone service went out, though we still had internet service (the other day my wife was having poor internet service, so we rebooted the U-verse router and after awhile got both internet and phone back up and running, but maybe it’s connected). At first, we had a dial tone, but when I tried to dial a number, I only got static, no ring. So I went into the Status page for the U-verse modem and restarted the phone service. It said it restarted successfully, but it also said that it was “registering.” And it said that for over 24 hours (even after I’d contacted support). But at this point when I tried to dial out, I got a busy signal.

Since we still had internet, I went to att.com and tried to get support. Their support portal took me to the Troubleshoot and Resolve tool, which made me go through all the steps, like making sure my phone was plugged in. I answered appropriately and eventually got to a point where it seemed to be testing my phone connection, then it told me I needed a new modem and asked if I wanted them to ship me one for free (with U-verse, you rent your modem/gateway for about $7 a month—a good thing, since we went through several “crappy modems” (that’s what the tech guy called them) before getting one that worked for a couple of years. Now it apparently bit the dust.

I said “yes,” answered a couple more questions, and when it came time to get the shipment details, the support program crashed and I lost any info I had on it. So, I thought I’d ordered a new gateway/modem and had no idea how long it would take to arrive. I didn’t want to restart the modem because I didn’t want to risk losing DSL, so we were without a phone line for over 24 hours.

That brings us to this afternoon. As I was beginning this post, the modem arrived. Actually, before that, I was able to log in to ATT and this time saw there was a message telling me the modem had shipped and I could install my new equipment. That was great, but there was still no tracking number, so I had no idea when it would arrive until FedEx came knocking at my door.

In the box was a new gateway, about twice the size of our old one (a bit of an issue for the space we have it in, but I’ll deal), and a very basic setup guide. Basically, it said to remove our old cables and put them in the same ports on the new gateway. I did that, and it didn’t take too long — would have taken less time, but I decided to replace one cable that looked suspicious, which meant rerouting at the back of my cabinet.

I powered up the new gateway and waited while it got booted up and made its connection, which can take up to 15 minutes initially. Eventually the phone light turned green, so I tried to make a call, and it worked. Then, once broadband was up, I logged into the new wifi and tried to restore my login information, following the instructions.

Unfortunately, ATT didn’t have a backup of our old login credentials, but I decided to try chatting with an agent to see if they could restore them from my records. I gave her our old router’s network name and the old password, and she sent it to the new one. That worked. Now all of our devices can still login to the wifi network without changing every login and password.

So was the new user experience better or worse than before? On the one hand, it was a little frustrating to never have contact with a human being until I chatted with the customer service about restoring our wifi info. On the other hand, I avoided long wait times on hold with ATT, and I got my problem resolved in a little over 24 hours. Besides waiting for shipment, installing the new equipment only took about an hour, maybe a little more, but since part of that time was messing with the wiring, it really wasn’t too bad.

Now all that I have left to do is take the old router to the UPS store and let them ship it back to ATT at no charge. If that goes okay, I’ll be happy enough. And if ATT would rather ship out a new modem/gateway overtime something is broken, rather than sending out a technician, which may be cheaper for them, then I can live with that. The only problem would be if the new equipment didn’t really fix the problem. Then it would feel like a waste of time. And if I had lost internet connectivity instead of our phone service, then I would have still been calling a support number, if I could find it! So my feelings are mixed, but ultimately, if it works, I won’t complain. So far, so good. The new gateway even has more capabilities, like U-verse TV, which we don’t want and isn’t available in our area, but if that changes and we change our minds, it might be nice to have that functionality.

Going to the Dark Side, or How We Got Uverse

If you’ve followed the technology posts on this blog, you’ll know that I occasionally get a little miffed at ATT and their DSL service and Motorola modems. I’ve had my share of technical issues, which I’ve tried to chronicle in hopes that they can help others out, and judging from the number of hits I still get, that must be true.

Lately, we’d been having issues with how slow our DSL connection was. We were paying for 3 Mbps and getting 1.5 on a good day. We had also gone through the experience where ATT turned off our service to try to convince us to switch — they had given us notice, but we ignored it as a sales pitch — and forced us to call in and decline Uverse in order to get our DSL back. We were told DSL wasn’t being supported in our area and soon we would have to switch, but couldn’t get a definite time-frame. Maybe we had a couple of years left, but it seemed obvious that those would be a couple of years of crappy service. We didn’t want to switch at the time, because we didn’t have time to work out all the issues that would arise. My wife and I both teach, and we don’t want any interruption to our internet during the semester.

So this summer, when we weren’t quite as busy or at least when we could take a day or two to get things taken care of, we made the switch. I called, set up an appointment, and worked out the best deal we could get. Because we’ve been customers with ATT for many years (and Bellsouth before it got bought out), we were able to get free installation. I made sure to get the bundle that worked best for our needs: we went with 18 Mbps, though we would have been fine with 12. 18 turned out to be cheaper when all charges were considered — the bundle included the modem fee, whereas it wasn’t included in the quoted price for the 12 Mbps rate, according to the salesperson I spoke with at the time.

The day arrived, and a very nice technician came to hook up our service. They put a new box on the outside of our home and  ran a new cable inside, but used the existing phone lines leading up to the house. Because we had had our DSL serviced recently, the cable from the street to the house had been replaced — often this is replaced with a new Uverse installation. But I was interested to find out that the existing phone lines are used. It’s not a completely new network, so some of our old problems haven’t gone away.

In fact, it took the technician 5 hours and a helper to get our service up and running. He went through 2 modems trying to get one to work, and in the end, he couldn’t get us 18 Mpbs, but could get close: 14.4, I believe is what we officially have, though he said it might be more like 15 or 16 on a good day. (And it is notably faster than our old service — about 10 times faster than what we actually got, and 5 times faster than what we were supposed to get). Changing the speed meant changing the billing, though, and I had to wrangle with customer service a little to make sure we hadn’t lost some of the terms I’d worked out. In the end, i was satisfied, and we were paying about the same for 14.4 Mpbs as we would for 18.

The reason we couldn’t get the level of service we’d been sold (and they tried to sell us a higher rate) is at least in part due to a “bridge tap” on our phone line somewhere between us and the phone company. We were told this was underground and they couldn’t get down the manhole to replace it. As I understand it, a bridge tap adds a phone line off an existing line and effectively increases the distance between your location and the phone company by however long that other line is. It’s not a good thing, in other words, but they can’t take it out.

Still, we were happy with the new service. The problems were with billing. We had DSL and DirecTV bundled (and received a bundle discount). Switching services dropped that bundle. We called to get that put back together right away, but it still takes a month or more to get combined billing (even though or maybe in part because ATT finally bought DirecTV about the time we made the switch —they’d been planning to for months and it finally went through).

We also had autopay set up on our account, and because Uverse billing is separate from other ATT billing, when we switched, we lost the autopay on the ‘new’ account. No one told us, so we were late paying our first bill. We have electronic billing and didn’t realize we had been billed because we tend to ignore bills we know will get paid. The amounts we were billed were also confusing —DirecTV billed us for two months and then we were to get a credit because we’d already paid on the ATT DSL account. It took hours on the phone to figure out what was what and be sure that we were being billed correctly.

To top it all off, about a month after we got the service, it went out. We had no internet and no phone service at the house, and it took me all day to get it restored. At first, I thought it might be due to the billing error, though they assured me it was not. I had to call several times to troubleshoot the modem, in part because they wouldn’t tell me what to do. Because I had no home phone (and my cell phone battery was dead), i called from the office, but they would only tell me to turn the modem off for 30 seconds (the first time they told me 10 seconds). When i called back, they told me to reset the modem using the reset button on the back — if I had been told that when i very pointedly asked what I could do before I called back, I could have saved 10 minutes of a phone call while I waited for that not to work. ATT also used their usual tactic of warning me there could be a $99 service fee if the problem turned out to be in my wiring. Since it had just been installed, I was confident that it wouldn’t be the issue.

As it turned out, the service guy was very nice. He came in and replaced our modem, telling me that about half their modems are junk and need to be replaced (two out of the three we’ve had were no good — let’s see how long this one lasts).

All in all, when Uverse works, it’s great — much better than our DSL (though not that much better than DSL when it actually worked). I don’t like that fact that internet and phone go out together (it’s phone over internet, so that makes sense), but I guess I’ll have to live with that. I don’t like living in fear that my modem will die, but maybe if it lasts more than a month or two, I’ll start to trust it again.

What was really annoying about the whole process was the billing, and this is something ATT needs to figure out. There’s no reason to force your customers to redo every aspect of billing when they switch services. It was worse than setting up a new account. I would rate them a -10 out of 10 on this aspect of Uverse. It would have been easier to switch to cable than to go through the nightmare of ATT billing (though I know cable companies are just as bad—otherwise, I would have been tempted).

The other negative aspect of the switch was ATT phone support. Though they are always very friendly, I didn’t find technical support very helpful. We had one guy who was very good helping us set up our new account after we had to redo everything for the slower speed, though even he forgot about autopay and he couldn’t help us with DirecTV – we had to be transferred to someone else for that. But calling to get help on the equipment is a nightmare. First it takes you forever to get to a real person (tip: dial 00 at any point to get to a representative), and then they don’t answer your questions or give you full advice. They seem to just follow a script one step at a time, and they want to discourage you from calling out a service technician when you need one. I’m happy to troubleshoot and try to fix things myself, but don’t threaten me with exorbitant service charges when the fault is clearly in your crappy equipment.

If there were an alternative, I would probably switch again. But our local cable company is as bad or worse, and despite their claims of being up to 10 times faster (they can’t do math, so why should I trust them—they offer “up to” 50 Mbps, which is not 10×15 — I hate to break it to them), their customer service is notoriously awful. So for now, we’re stuck with the devil we know, and can only hope that the modem doesn’t die every month or two.

My takeaway — if you have DSL and it’s working, I wouldn’t switch yet (unless you can get TV and want it—we don’t have Uverse TV in our area). Let them at least work out their billing nightmare after the acquisition of DirecTV before you bother switching, and maybe the modems will get better, too. But if your DSL service sucks and you can’t get it repaired, then it might be time to think about going over to the dark side. In the end, we’re happy with the service, but it’s been a nightmare getting here at times.

ATT’s Strong-Arm Tactics

Today I was surprised to come home for lunch and find the following error message when I tried to browse online:

Important Message                      NRCM

Your Internet access, including any VoIP services that utilize your Internet connection, has been temporarily suspended.
Please call us as soon as possible!

We have sent you a number of notifications about an important network upgrade to AT&T U-verse High Speed Internet service for your area.

You need to contact us to have your access restored and set up an appointment to have the necessary equipment installed in your home for the upgrade.

Please call 1.877.377.1686 at the times listed below:
8am – 7pm Local Time Monday through Friday    8am – 5pm Local Time Saturday    Closed on Sunday

It is important that we hear from you so that your current high speed Internet service is not disconnected on the date provided
in your notifications.

As you might expect, I was shocked and pretty PO’d at these strong-arm tactics. Yes. we’d received what we considered junk mail solicitations to switch to U-verse from our current DSL. This would mean a disruption in our service, figuring out a new wireless configuration in our home, and possible added cost with no benefit other than possibly faster internet speeds. (Note to ATT, maybe if you actually provided the internet speeds we pay for on a consistent basis, we’d believe your promise of faster speeds with U-verse). Like most junk mail, we ignored them. After all, we pay our bills, so why would they suspend our service?

It’s pretty reprehensible that they did. Yes, we were warned, though we never took the warnings that seriously, and in fact we had good reason not to. We called the number, and were told we needed our account number from our bill. Since we use auto-pay, we don’t get a bill. We couldn’t even access a recent email with that information. So the initial call ended in frustration. We had no internet and no way of providing the information we needed to restore it. We had done nothing wrong, yet our service was interrupted (not cancelled, of course).

Fortunately, when my wife, whose name is on the account, called back, the person she talked to that time was able to use her name and social security number to update the account. This operator also revealed that DSL service, which I had been told would be discontinued in our area, probably wouldn’t be discontinued for another year or two. We certainly have enough time to make our decision of whether we want to switch to U-verse or find another option. ATT’s tactics of turning off our service just to get us to call when there apparently isn’t a rush to make a decision don’t make us very happy customers. We’ve had consistent phone and broadband service at this address with BellSouth and then ATT for over 15 years. That’s no way to treat loyal customers, if you ask me.

We have two main issues with switching to U-verse. One is that we use internet constantly for work and for personal communication, so we don’t want an interruption (and really didn’t appreciate losing an hour out of our day to sort this out today!), so IF we decide to change our configuration, we’ll want to do it at a time when we won’t be using it heavily and when we can test out and deal with any incompatibilities that will undoubtedly arise. The other issue is cost. Yes, they make it sound like it will be cheaper, and for the first year it will be. But after that the charges go up, and there’s a $7 a month charge for a wifi router that we don’t want or need. Though we do need a modem or gateway for broadband, we have a wireless router that we’re happy with, so why should we be forced to use one provided by ATT? Yet ATT seems intent on either driving us away or forcing us to use their U-verse service. It may be time to investigate alternatives.

ATT DSL Woes Resolved (for now ?)

When we came home from our Christmas travels, we had a little time on our hands and wanted to watch some Netflix streaming. Fortunately, we also had a couple of DVD’s to watch, since our DSL connection speeds had dropped to the point that Netflix wouldn’t load. I tested our connection using speedtest.net and got speeds that ranged from over 2 mbps (we should have 3, but 2+ isn’t bad for an average) down to .20 mbps. Typical scores were around .5 mbps. Clearly, something was wrong.

So I spent a couple of hours with ATT Support. Getting to the right person made me feel like the main character of a Kafka novel. We have DSL, but they still routed me to U-verse first, then to DSL Southwest, and finally to the Southeast division who needed to help me. This happened a couple of times, since I was disconnected whenever I tried ATT’s speed test. The third time, I got right back to the service rep who had been helping me.

When I was talking to the right guy, he was very helpful. He didn’t make me go through all the typical trouble-shooting, like resetting my modem, once I explained what I had done already. He listened well, and had some good suggestions, none of which solved the issue, but which did isolate the problem. He believed me when I told him (the truth) that I had the same problem when my computer was connected directly to the modem and not through my Airport Extreme, and he didn’t make me keep testing it that way. This allowed me to be on the chat line while others in the family were working or playing online. And he didn’t balk when I told him my modem is set to bridge mode. He did have me connect directly from the phone jack to the modem without a filter (disconnecting our phones), in case an old filter were causing the problem. For a brief moment, we thought we had fixed it when we got two or three high speed tests. Then it went right back to .40 mbps or lower. He tested the line remotely, but couldn’t find a problem other than a high ping-back rate. On the basis of this, he dispatched a service tech to our home  with the standard warnings that it could be expensive if they found something inside and I didn’t have inside line maintenance, which I don’t. He did say we could refuse that service and make the repairs ourselves if that were the case.

When the service tech came out the next day, he checked our line and replaced the line coming into the house since it had a splice that could cause problems (didn’t help) and checked our bridge taps (I think he called them this), which are connections on the line coming to our house from the main office that could cause problems. He didn’t find anything there either. Essentially, he said our wiring was perfect, yet our internet connection was lousy. He explained it as our sync rate (the ability of the copper wire to deliver a signal) was perfect, but our surf rate (our actual experience online) was lousy. He said there were two possibilities. On ATT’s end, our port could need replacing, and on our end our modem or possibly just the ethernet cable to the modem (or the router) could need replacing. Since our modem and router are less than a year old, I was confident they weren’t the issue.

The next business day, ATT replaced the port on our line, and presto, our speeds went back to 2.8 or higher (and this is testing over wifi, so I expect lower results than if everything was hard wired to the computer). FaceTime calls and Netflix streaming has been much better.

So what did I learn from this experience? The main thing is that when ATT support tests your line remotely, they aren’t seeing the whole picture. They test your line from the port to your house, but they don’t test the port itself. (And I learned it’s called a port.) So it’s worth pushing until they send someone out who can really check the line and then can put in an order to change the port if they can’t find another cause.

All in all, I was satisfied with this ATT support experience. It took longer to get to a resolution than I would like (wouldn’t it be great if they could tell your port is bad when you call in?), but with due diligence we were able to find and correct the problem. It helps to be knowledgable about your service and to do as much trouble-shooting as you can before you call. What pleased me was that ATT support believed I really had a problem and took my complaint seriously. This time. I’ve had good experiences when technicians come to my home and mixed results from phone support. Having used both phone and chat support, I prefer the chat option, mainly because I don’t have to listen to hold music and I seem to get through to a person sooner, even if I did get misrouted several times. You do have to be patient and calm, but remain persistent: your problem should be resolved. Hopefully, it will be awhile before we have any more connection issues!

Motorola 3360 Follow-Up

Well, I had hoped I’d fixed my modem, and I did get it working, but it hasn’t stayed fixed very much in the past few days. I’ve had a couple more calls to ATT ‘tech support’–one guy was very helpful; though he didn’t solve my problem, he did have information that helped me live with it. Another guy was abysmal. Basically, he just wanted me to go away. He suggested I try connecting just with the computer for awhile to see whether that helped. Nope.

Here’s what I’ve learned, at least in my situation. When I’m connected using my Airport Express, I should have three green lights (power, ethernet, and DSL), but the Internet light won’t light up, since the modem hasn’t made the connection in Bridge Mode. The green light on the Airport shows that. And I do get the occasional flash on the Activity light.

My connection will last anywhere from a few hours to a few minutes using the Airport as my router. When it loses the connection, sometimes I can get it back if I disconnect and let it reconnect. That’s what I try first.When that doesn’t work (more than half of the time), then I have to connect directly to my laptop and change my settings.

To do this, I turn off Airport on the laptop to force it to use ethernet. Then I often try making a connection over PPPoE using the laptop (I set that up as part of my troubleshooting.) Invariably that doesn’t work, but it seems to help me establish an ethernet connection to the modem in the next step. I enter the physical address of the modem 192.186.1.254 in my browser (you can bet I have this bookmarked!). Usually when I get there, I see an error message that Broadband is down. I have to restart the modem a couple of times to clear this, and as I’m doing this, I change my setting from Bridge Mode to PPPoE On Modem using Advanced Settings/PPP Location (to get here, I need the access code on my modem, though I’ve saved this to my Notes, so I can copy and paste). That causes a restart. Then I try to connect by clicking on Connect — I need my access code again at this point, and the modem restarts). That usually still gives me an error, but the second time I connect after changing my settings to PPPoE on Modem, I can get online.

Sometimes I operate like this for awhile, if I’m the only one who needs internet access. Sometimes I change to PPPoE on Computer (entering my code again, and restarting the modem) but let my laptop do the dialing for awhile. Things seem to work best if there’s just the computer and the modem with the modem logging in the PPPoE connection, but even then, I have had brief outages several times last night. They only lasted half a minute or so, and the modem was able to reestablish the connection. When my laptop does the PPPoE, my connection seems to last longer, but I still run into problems eventually (and of course, I can’t print, and no one else can access the internet). When I plug back into the Airport, everything is fine again. That is, until the next outage, which can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Over the past few days, I have lost my connection at least 5 times a day; some days it seems more like 50 (probably closer to 20). I do sense another call to ‘ATT tech support’ coming on, since this is not acceptable, especially for a brand new modem and a brand new Airport. (I’d call Apple, but I really don’t think the problem is with the Airport, since it happens with my laptop as well.)

Will post more if I come up with a solution that is more permanent (or if ATT has more answers).

How I fixed my DSL modem connection, no thanks to ATT support

Warning: for those who are looking for my thoughts on poetry or cooking, this is one of my techie posts. Now and then, I become a complete nerd. My apologies! Look around my blog for other more interesting stuff, if you’re not looking for arcane information on internet connections or Apple products.

Disclaimer: ATT’s help desk might have been able to help me if I had given all the information. I didn’t realize they might need some of the information that follows, so I didn’t volunteer it, and ATT help dude did not ask the appropriate questions to resolve my issue without suggesting I send back the modem.

Note to ATT: Your hold notices that constantly tell me how I could easily troubleshoot my problem online really don’t put me in the best mood when my problem is that I can’t get online.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten those  mini-rants out of the way, here’s the deal…

Tonight our internet connection went down. I did the usual steps of restarting the modem, waiting awhile, restarting my computer and the modem, and then trying to connect directly to the modem from my computer with an ethernet cable. I even tried a second ethernet cable. But nothing worked. That’s when I thought there must be a serious problem, so I called ATT’s help desk, actually hoping they might be able to tell me if there was an internet problem in my area, but fearing there was a problem with the modem.

ATT’s helpdesk walked me through the usual troubleshooting steps, including resetting the modem, which should have resolved the problem, but didn’t. He had me hold the reset button for 5 seconds. The instructions just say “Press the reset button.” When my computer was getting the wrong IP address from the DNS server, I was told that the modem must be bad and would need to be replaced. Or he thought it might be my computer. He didn’t think to ask me the one question that would have resolved the issue, and if I had remembered to tell him, that could have made a better support experience, too. But it’s been awhile since I set up the modem, so I wasn’t thinking about this…

I run a Motorola 3360 DSL modem with an Apple Airport Express base station. To do this, I have the modem set up in Bridged Mode, so that the Airport Express can make the PPPoE connection (login to my DSL account). Why? Because my modem doesn’t assign DNS addresses to computers on my network: it only works with one computer or router, so I have to have the Airport give our computers, iPad, etc. their DNS addresses. To have it do this, I also have to set the Airport to login to ATT DSL (and tell the modem not to do that, which is called operating in Bridged Mode).

When I hung up the phone with ATT support, I was very frustrated that my modem wouldn’t work. I really needed it tonight, and fortunately, I had told the support tech that I would take the modem back to the store in the morning, rather than have him replace it (because I didn’t want to wait for them to ship a new modem). I thought I would try resetting it one more time, and this time I held the button for 30 seconds (remembering that trick from past modems). All the lights went green, and I had an ‘internet connection,’ though actually, as I learned, I really didn’t.

It took me a little while to figure out that I was logged into the default account. I remembered that I had to go back in and change my username and password, so that I could actually get online. Fortunately, after the hard reset, I was now able to access the setup menus on the modem (see below for an explanation). I entered my information, and restarted the modem. Low and behold, I was back online, though I was tethered to the modem with an ethernet cable.

I did the most important communications that I’d been in a hurry to do, then got to thinking about restoring my wireless setup. A little searching online reminded me that I had to change the PPP Location setting to On Computer, instead of the default On Modem. I knew this, but didn’t remember what it was called or where to change the setting. And I hadn’t remembered one key thing…

When I made these changes, the modem gave me a warning as it restarted. Essentially, it told me that I wouldn’t be able to access the modem’s settings interface unless I made the right changes on my computer (I saved these instructions and hope I’ll remember where I put them) or reset the modem. This explains why I wasn’t able to make a direct connection to the modem’s interface until I had succeeded in resetting the modem.

If I had remembered that, I might never have called ATT, or if the tech support guy had thought to ask about bridge mode, then I would have told him. Since I had disconnected my Airport and was trying to connect directly from my computer, I didn’t think it was relevant to tell him that I had the Airport connected at one point. If I’d said that, he probably would have figured it out.

So, if you’re troubleshooting a DSL modem connection problem, it’s probably worth asking whether the modem has ever been set to Bridged Mode. Or if you’re resetting the modem, it’s probably worth holding that button for at least 30 seconds to force a complete reset to factory settings. My 5-second reset gave me the appropriate flashing lights, but obviously didn’t reset everything.

What I don’t know is why the modem stopped working in the first place. My guess is that it was something on ATT’s end that cleared up eventually on its own. Usually restarting the modem fixes the issue when that happens occasionally.

What I do know is how to reset the modem and set everything back up again if this happens again (and I wrote myself instructions for when it happens again). And I know that there’s not a problem with the modem just because my computer can’t connect to the setup screen. Maybe that will help me avoid calling ATT for ‘support’ in the future.