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Confessions of a cable casualty

It’s official. I am now the not-so-proud owner of one converter box and about 15 feet of coaxial cable.

If I’d had my way, there’d be a wok-sized satellite disc bolted to the railing of the patio outside my Decatur apartment. Anything but submit to the 20-day ordeal I’ve weathered, butting heads with some of the most ineffective customer service reps in greater Atlanta.

My misadventure originated in Greenville, S.C., where, two weeks before my transfer to Atlanta, I phoned AT&T Broadband from work, punched the speakerphone button and settled in for a long wait. After 45 minutes on hold, someone answered. He couldn’t have been more than 18 years old and his indifferent responses smacked of impatience when he failed to find my address. Over and over, I repeated it to him. Nothing. According to AT&T records, my apartment didn’t exist.

“So you’re telling me that because you can’t bring up my address, I can’t get cable?”

“Umm ...”

“Can I speak to a supervisor?”

“He isn’t here. Hold, please.”

Two clicks and then silence.

Already I could sense this was shaping up to be a customer service nightmare of epic proportions.

I managed to reach another AT&T rep 30 minutes later. After an extensive 15-second investigation, it was determined that an errant hyphen in my apartment number was the culprit. And because I’d called well in advance, I was able to schedule installation for the day after our move. That was too good to be true.

In fact, it wasn’t true.

The installer arrived at our apartment shortly after 8 a.m. Upon realizing he didn’t have the key required to activate our cable, he hit the road to hunt down an installer who had one. No luck. So he packed up and left, mumbling something about an AT&T rep contacting us soon.

I knew better. I called AT&T immediately. This time I reached someone in 15 minutes. She offered two options: 1) I could reschedule, which meant no cable for another 10 days; or 2) I could call dispatch, the folks in direct contact with the installers, who should be able to send someone to our home that day. Could she contact dispatch for us? Apparently not.

I went with second option. Two hours later, I was still on hold. A half-hour after that, my molars ground to nubs, I heard ringing. It continued for 20 minutes before I was disconnected.

I slammed the phone down onto the wicker coffee table (sorry, Martha) and bounded into the next room. This crappy outfit didn’t deserve my patronage. Time for DIRECTV. Sitting down at the iMac, I ordered $145 worth of equipment on the assurance that I could return it if things didn’t work out. To that end, my complex was littered with satellite dishes, so figured I’d have little problem.

Wrong. Within a week, the dish and two receivers were on their way back to DIRECTV via FedEx, and it was back to reading books before bed, multiple trips to Hollywood Video and mornings with the good folks at WSB radio. It wasn’t like I had any other choice. Cable monopolies are the norm everywhere these days. And when, like AT&T Broadband, you’re the only option for miles around, a captive customer base doesn’t exactly encourage great service.

After a few more days of CNN withdrawal, I relented. This time, I reached an AT&T rep in less than five minutes. As it happens, my account was still active, and when asked if I was calling about an upgrade, I told him my story. “Dispatch never answers the phone,” he said, stifling a knowing giggle. “There’s only a few of them trying to service the whole area.” And besides, he added, their phone isn’t even working properly.

I appreciated his honesty. Really.

“We’ll get you hooked up this time,” he said. “How’s Wednesday between 8 and 11 a.m. sound?”

With Wednesday only a few days away, I consented — not that I had any leverage anyway.

“So that’s Wednesday, Sept. 5, between 8 and 11,” I said, just before hanging up.

“No, that’s Wednesday the 12th.”

Broken, defeated, the fight drained out of me, I’d have to take my medicine, resigned to my fate as one unsatisfied cable customer among many.

Hobart Rowland is associate editor of Creative Loafing.??

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