RURAL DIS-CONNECTIVITY: Part of WV’s Plight
Published to: Internet, law office management, Law Office Technology, Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer, Practice Tips, WV Lawyer - Tips and Techniques
on April 15, 2019 1:32 pm
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This is a blog article and Complaint to West Virginia Attorney General Consumer Protection Division about the Buckhannon, WV AT&T store.
It is a story of two dozen wasted hours, false promises, incompetence, and unconcern for customers.
This frustrating, expensive, and protracted journey bears relevance to anybody trying to negotiate the multiple layers of challenges in communicating with any large entity in this “digital age”.
It is also relevant to the challenges any adult, but especially those over 50, have in dealing with modern technology and communication. This applies particularly to other small-town lawyers and their clients.
Finally, the connectivity challenges for persons who live only 3 miles from their County Courthouse are part of the reason that West Virginia is suffering economic stagnation and cultural malaise.
My beloved wife of 50 years, Nancy, could see it coming. Our technology was failing us. Our Sirius Radio could no longer be wireless in our house, so it was useless. Our DirecTV no longer permits us to rent a new movie, as its download speed is so slow the movie takes 24 hours to download.
But, our primary problem was the continuing deterioration of HughesNet Satellite Internet. When we first subscribed, it worked fine, except in storms. But as our devices used more data, streaming became common, and, as cloud-based services arrived, HughesNet could not keep up. It reminded me that Howard Hughes had become a recluse and then died.
During one of the many phone conversations with HughesNet tech support before our last “upgrade”, the HughesNet representative told me “confidentially”, “We have been having lots of problems, because we had too many customers. But our new satellite should take care of that.” In other words, “We have been lying to you for the last year.” I appreciated the candor.
My HughesNet complaints were my first experience with our new Republican Atty. General’s Consumer Protection Division. I wonder how our Attorney General missed that. It impacted thousands of customers, but his assistant wrote me, “We recommend you seek relief elsewhere.” Patrick Morrisey is no Darrell McGraw!
I am an avid consumer of educational videos. Evernote, CaseMap, Pathagoras, Photoshop Elements, Excel, and Microsoft Word are a few of my courses. For me they are a form of therapy, and they constantly give me ideas for improving our service and quality of life.
My courses and my writing are a few hours of “sanity” in a week punctuated by emergencies and interruptions. That’s why I need a home office. Good luck with that in rural WV. You’ll need it, or lots of persistence.
Even with the slow, heavily buffered, signal, that our “high-speed” HughesNet HG5 provided, it ran out before the end of three weeks each month. So, we had to limp along at a greatly reduced speed for that last week; unless, of course, relatives or friends came to visit as their many devices quickly used are remaining data. We learned it is a magnificent “20 gig”! So much for “robust business level service”. Your Granny uses that much on her iPhone.
I precipitated the “final straw” when I came upon a 14-minute YouTube video by my nerdy, Canadian, “Boomer”, YouTube blogger, Steve Dotto on the subject, “Google Photos 2018: The one – stop tutorial”, https://youtu.be/YXe68IxpqWo .
I was blown away by the “A.I.” built into this application. Remarkable face recognition. Using Google Cloud, you can upload all your photos and find they are neatly sorted into albums for each of your friend friends and family member.
I have yet to use fully its “deep” analyses of things like artwork, painting, and mechanical parts, but I hope to use it to classify the pieces in my American Indian artifact collection.
Unfortunately, my uploading 7000 images “blew up” my HughesNet! Since 20 gig. was its maximum product, I decided to “Seek relief elsewhere.” as the Attorney General suggested. So, I visited the Buckhannon, WV AT&T store, where I met Sydney and learned they had a package with unlimited streaming and two iPhone Xs Maxi’s for the price we were paying, and a next generation iPad for $99.
Excellent, so I thanked Sydney and told her I would be back with my wife.
As we entered the store, Nancy uttered her usual warning, “This is going to take a lot longer than you think.” Little did we know! I asked for Sydney, and she appeared. Upon inquiry, we explained that we had combined our Direct TV and AT&T accounts when we got our iPhone 6’s and iPads.
We again explained our problem with HughesNet, and she confirmed that AT&T was offering an unlimited data plan, new iPhone XS Max phones, and a new iPad for $99. That sounded good. “Sign us up!”.
As she began to type up the order, Sydney encountered a problem and called in Bailey. Both young women had bad colds, so there were lots of sniffles and tissues. After they conferred, Sydney advised, “In order to get the iPad, you will need to separate your DirecTV and AT&T accounts and convert your AT&T account to a business account. She assured us, “It will be easy.”
Very reluctantly, we agreed, as my wife whispered to me, “You just wait; this is going to be trouble.” So, I said to Sydney, “My wife is a skeptic, are you sure you can do this without screwing up our accounts?” She advised that she had checked with Bailey, and she was sure.
The sequence of these conversations blur, but we also learned that AT&T sells a “hotspot device” which is simply a Wi-Fi router which would allow us to have AT&T Wi-Fi in our house. The hotspot limit was 100 gig +15 gig each per phone or 130 gigs., over six times HughesNet’s limit!
Then came the most tantalizing bit of information. I explained that I had researched Internet signal boosters on the Internet but found them to be expensive and confusing. They referred us to Seneca Satellite of Elkins with a comment, they install boosters all the time”.
As we finished up two or three hours with Sydney and Bailey, the plan was clear. We were going to sign up for the unlimited service and get new iPhone 10 Maxis and a new iPad, which they showed us but couldn’t give us. She promised it would be here when our iPhones arrived. Promises are “cheap” but really very expensive at the Buckhannon AT&T Store.
That was on a Friday. On Monday or Tuesday, I informed my wife, I’m going to pick up our phones and iPad”. She chuckled and said, “I hope you left enough time”.
When I arrived, Sydney and Bailey were “gone”. We later learned that Sydney had left to follow her boyfriend, a “pipe liner”, and Sydney simply failed to show.
We were assigned to Chris. Chris’s persona is “disinterest”. He slouches. He calls the customer by first name, which is fine, but “call me Burt” always received, “John” or, his favorite, “Buddy”. We are not buddies.
After three or four frustrating hours where, at one stage, I said, “forget it” but persevered, I had learned that no matter how many times Chris punched in the account change into the computer, it could not understand it. He was persistent in slouching and punching, and calling me “Buddy”.
Chris was perplexed, so he called Eddie in Elkins and promised me that I would receive a call from Eddie in a few days. Please recall that an hour before I had said forget it, but we had persevered, I had agreed to stay with the contract, and Chris had promised that I would soon talk with Eddie, which I did.
I mentioned this because of Chris’s apparent “short-term memory issues”. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he takes no notes and shows little interest in his job.
Eddie called the next day and explained that Chris needed to fill out a paper form and fax it to AT&T. He promised to e-mail the form to Chris immediately. He assured me that Chris would open your business account right away and call you.
Bailey, who is the closest thing to competence in that office said, “Chris, why don’t you check your email?” Chris did, and there was the form sent to him by Eddie! Chris assured me he would submit the form, and I left.
After several days of no call from Chris, I walked into the AT&T store and there indeed was Chris slouching in his chair as usual. “Hi buddy” he stated. I explained to him that I had talked to Eddie and that I was awaiting his call about opening the business account. His eyes opened a bit as did his mouth and he looked up and said, but you told me “to forget it”. I responded, “Indeed I did, one hour before you and I got back to work, and you told me that Eddie would be calling me.”
“No, I am sure you told me to forget it.” “Chris, in frustration of course I told you ‘forget it’. You forget next hour. Do you remember telling me that Eddie would call?” Chris could not remember that.
I said, “Eddie said he was emailing you of form which you would promptly submit to AT&T.
I asked Chris if he received the reminder letter I had sent him a few days before. He replied, “Yea, I got it, but I didn’t think you meant it.”
I stopped by on Sat., March 16, 2019, our 50th wedding anniversary week-end, with three of my grandchildren, to sign a few papers and keep things moving, and to travel to Elkins to purchase our signal booster.
By my calculation, I have spent 12-15 hours in-store working to get this contract completed. Finally, our business account was opened, the one Sydney had assured would be “no problem”. Later, when my wife informed them we had been billed $200 for our discontinued account, Bailey assured us, “Don’t worry; it will be taken off the bill.” It was, but since then we were forced to pay a “fake” bill of over $600 or have service cut off. We are in the process of trying to get our money back.
But we had our phones, our WIFI hotspot, our booster, and satisfactory Internet speed, if not coverage. So, I waited a week for the call from Chris that my iPhone, whose price was raised to $199, had arrived.
Finally, I stopped by to get my iPad. Burt: “Is it in? Chris: “Shake of head.” “Sorry Buddy. I couldn’t get it for you.”
So, the sole reason we had spent over a dozen hours to create a business account, was taken away with Chris’s shrug.
I said, “This is upsetting.” He said, “I know how you feel.” I felt like Jerry Seinfeld, wanting to say, “No, I don’t think you do!”
“I think I will file a complaint.” Chris: “I don’t blame you; I’d do the same thing. Good luck Buddy.” I am tempted to blame the two incompetent reps, but it isn’t that simple. We’ve tried to get help on line. We’ve called Eddie. We have called AT&T and been switched from one heavily accented tech-rep to another, only to be told, “You will have to get help elsewhere.”
Where is elsewhere? Local authorities have no control here, and people above Chris’s pay grade are unresponsive. We could sue and have a trial before a jury of our peers, but Congress has taken away our right to trial, by jury or judge, with that evil fraud called “forced arbitration”. That’s a subject for another day, but the loss of that right harms every American.
Why should getting to the Internet to a rural location be so clunky and expensive? Fast communication could connect West Virginians, with each other and the world, with rural schools, with college or trade school, and for business, professional, or educational purposes. (Not to mention porn and gaming, the pastime of so many WV males.) Yes, I am discouraged and angry.
Think about rural disabled and homebound people. How can they afford to stay connected with the world?
There remain unresolved the $640 over-charge, and “the bait and switch” of a nearly free iPad that never arrived. And, until Chris and Baily are canned or move on, we can’t show our face at the local store. Just like our bad roads, our poor Internet pathways are barriers to WV entering the modern world. Beautiful, but still backward. o
This post was written by Burton Hunter