Sunday, March 21, 2010

at&t - Just Say NO

Well, just when you thought things couldn't get more stupid...here comes at&t to make sure they're ahead of the curve.

If you haven't read about my great new VPS service, now may be the time to read about it, because this involves that service.

The first thing I noticed when I started doing my own DNS again is that at&t hadn't removed references to my domain since I stopped being their customer several years ago. By several, I mean five. I sent a kind message to the address in their whois contact information. This should have been completed when I terminated service with them, but I guess their system administrators aren't as diligent as I am...

Today I tried to send e-mail to a friend...who happens to have at&t's Internet service. Guess what? I can't send e-mail to her. Why? Because at&t thinks my new mail server on my new VPS has been used in abuse/spamming incidents. The first thing I thought was, "Oh, crap! Did I screw-up my mail server configuration?!" My log files say, "No." Whew. So now I sit wondering why at&t would block mail from my server...and I came up with two reasonable excuses (explanations?):
  1. Someone in the same block of IP addresses that my VPS is on was actually involved in some kind of abuse of the 'net, so at&t decided to block all the IP addresses in that range, instead of just the offender. That is really bad practice, but people do it.
  2. When I sent in the report to at&t about their DNS problems, they erroneously considered that some form of abuse, and blocked my mail server. When I said I sent a "kind" request, I mean it was very polite and professional. Seriously.
Now both of these excuses demonstrate plain crappy system/network administration skills on at&t's part. It also is a perfect example of how a large company can use abuse their power. At&t provides a web page where you can get your address removed from their blacklist (see http://att.net/blocks). When you're done submitting the request, they tell you they will respond within two business days. TWO BUSINESS DAYS?!

Dear Mary: I can't respond to your e-mail for the next two days because fscking at&t decided to block mail from me. Love, CPU.

So you're probably wondering, "Why in the world did you leave at&t as a customer?" Glad you asked (my apologies to those who've heard this already)...

Back 5 years ago, I was an at&t DSL customer, and at that time you had to have a phone line to get DSL.

When I ordered the phone line a couple of years earlier, I said that I didn't want long distance. "I use my land-line very little, if at all, because I mostly use my cell phone," I told the person taking my order. She convinced me that having a long distance carrier may come in handy, and that they had a plan that would have no monthly fee. "Okay," I said reluctantly, and that was that...

Over the next year or two at&t changed the terms of that plan at least TWICE, making it have a $5/month charge whether you used long distance or not. Each time, I had to call at&t after finding out that a charge started appearing on my bill, or because they actually warned me about it ahead of time (they don't always), and change to yet another "no monthly charge" long distance plan.

Either way, the last time I said, "I don't want long distance. Please just remove it from my line." Two different customer service reps told me they couldn't do that without charging me a $6.75 change fee. The final time I called I said, "You can either waive the charge, since you keep changing the terms of my long distance plan, or you will lose all of my business because I will cancel my service." They said, "Sir, we can't do that for anyone. These are the charges we have."

So I canceled my DSL and phone service with at&t, got RoadRunner from Time Warner Cable, and haven't looked back...much... Oh, and when I did call to say I was canceling my service, the at&t rep asked me why. I explained about the $6.75 charge and said, "It apparently was more important to bill me the $6.75 change fee than keep the $80/month service I had with you." She said, "Well, we could have given you a 'courtesy credit' for the change fee." I said, "Well, it's too late now."

When I started having issues with Time Warner, I was really thinking about going back to at&t. Aside from the fact that my cable modem connection generally works pretty well, here's the reasons why I won't ever go back to at&t:
  1. Because of what they just did to me (blocked my e-mail, and wasted my time by doing so)
  2. I'm still not over the $6.75 change fee story
  3. They require Internet Explorer to activate DSL service now
  4. A friend of mine was nearly in tears last week over a billing dispute that they said was resolved. I don't like it when a bunch of corporate thugs pick on my friends.
  5. This was after that same friend had a DSL modem that went bad right before the warranty expired, and at&t insisted it was a problem in her house wiring, ran out the clock on the warranty, and when she finally consulted with me we discovered it was really the DSL modem.
To be fair, I have had some issues with RoadRunner blocking e-mail from my mail server when I had DSL (they made an assumption that I was not permitted to run a mail server on that service, when in reality I paid at&t extra money so I could). That too, really pissed me off. However, RoadRunner's decision actually came closer to being legitimate than at&t just blocking an IP for the hell of it.

I watch people allow themselves to be bullied in this way time after time by companies like at&t. I can understand, though, why they do it. I have tried many times to step up and say, "No, you will not treat me like that." In return, all I succeeded in doing was becoming very irate, wasted a lot of time, and in the end accomplished nothing. Well, almost nothing. At least I'm not giving any money to at&t anymore.