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The AT&T Rip Off

We were surprised to discover outrageous rates in our AT&T long distance telephone bill. For calls from California to Taiwan, we were charged $2.92 per minute. Day and night we saw AT&T advertising low rates on television. But day and night AT&T tried to rip us off.

So we called AT&T customer service number at 1-800-222-0300. Surprise, surprise, there was no way to speak with a real person. We spent ten minutes looking for a menu item that said "press x to speak to a customer service representative." That menu item did not exist. We got angry and started pressing keys randomly. It replied that the menu entry was invalid. But we eventually figured out that when we made invalid entries repeatedly, at least four times in a row, our call would get routed to a queue to speak with a real person.

When we finally spoke with AT&T, we were told that the rates could not be adjusted. Because we signed up with AT&T long distance service without a specific international calling plan, we were charged the basic rate of $2.92 per minute and "economy rate" of $1.77 per minute.

So we pulled the trump card. We demanded to speak with the supervisor. The phone representative insisted that the supervisor would not be able to help us either. We screamed louder. He gave us two options: either wait 30 minutes on hold or wait for a callback within 24 hours. We took the callback option. The supervisor did not call. We tried again the next day. We received a message on our answering machine without a contact number. We called again and took the 30-minute-on-hold option. No deal, after all that hassle, AT&T still refused to adjust our bill. But every time we found our way to an AT&T person, he or she did try to sell us calling plans so that our future calls would be less expensive.

We contacted our local TV stations' consumer advocates. They did not want to involve themselves in the nasty business of telephone service. We contacted the FCC. Three months later, I received a call from a Carol Garza who resolved FCC complaints for AT&T Executive Appeals Office (1-877-385-9945). She explained to us that her company had not violated any regulations because these outrageous rates could be found in some publications. Ms. Garza told us that AT&T was required by the FCC to make these publications available to the general public; but AT&T was not required to make announcements about them. In the end, Ms. Garza told us to go to the library if we wanted to know what the "standard rates" were. And another three months later, we received the official notice from AT&T, signed by District Manager Margaret R. Berry, summarizing our conversation with Ms. Garza.

Meanwhile, we discussed the problem with a long distance dispute specialist of our local telephone company, Pacific Bell, which handled the billing for AT&T. We told the specialist that we would only pay 50 cents per minute for those international calls. She recalculated our balance. We sent the check. AT&T never asked for more money. But it continued to send us please-come-back checks in the mail.

Very simply put, AT&T engaged in the bloody war of long distance telephone service. In order to keep the business alive, AT&T eventually resorted to ripping off its customers and ceasing any useful form of customer service.

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