AT&T Cingular

smartphone

What is this?

Recently I switched from AT&T to Cingular as my cell phone service provider. Seeing as they are the same company, it was really just an internal migration – or at least it should have been. What happened instead was about 47 days of confusion, followed by the inevitable battle to set things right. This page and the blog will chronicle my progress in that battle. And just as it was gearing up, the battle is over – see below.

Summary of Events

  • 31 Dec 2004 Initial activation of the new account at the store in Bakersfield on Stockdale. I was told that my account would be switched over within a few days and that Id receive one last bill, prorated, from AT&T.
  • 2-3 Jan 2005 At another store in Bakersfield (on Oak?), I went in to ask why my phone was unable to receive calls when using my Cingular SIM card. I told them that my AT&T SIM card still worked fine, and that I had been using that. They said that Cingular had been having problems with people who switched over from AT&T around the time I did, and that it might be another week at most.
  • 7-9 Jan 2005 At the Westwood store, I asked again why my phone was unable to receive calls using my Cingular SIM card. I explained that Id been using my AT&T one. They told me that it should be working soon.
  • 14 Jan 2005 Received a Cingular bill for $30.91, the expected prorated amount. I noticed that the number of calls I made was shorter than I expected, but I thought this was just a lapse of memory.
  • 22 Jan 2005 The only helpful Cingular employee I’ve met works at the Santa Monica store on Wilshire (south side, on a corner). I explained the situation again to him, and he tried calling customer care, which, as always, was either unavailable or had a 5 min+ wait time. He told me that, by using my AT&T SIM card I might be double-billed. Uh oh.
  • 1,3,8 or 10 Feb 2005 I got an email saying that I had an AT&T bill ready to be viewed online. Id opted for the paperless bills, and automatic payment. I tried logging in to see my account. I got a page that said, The wireless number you entered does not match an active enrolled account. Huh? I just got a bill from these people! I called Cingular to ask about the SIM card and the bill, and the guy told me that I should be getting one last bill from AT&T, that it was normal, but that he couldn’t tell me what my account balance was, and that Id have to call AT&T for that. Huh? Doesn’t merger and welcome to the Cingular family imply a little more continuity than that?
  • 15 Feb 2005 My checking account shows a deduction of $101.65 from AT&T (I later find out this is because I used 404 anytime minutes when my account with AT&T was only set up for 300).
  • 16 Feb 2005 I received a Cingular bill for $50.34 (08 Jan 2005 – 07 Feb 2005) that showed no usage. None. Zip, Zero, Zilch. Uh oh.
  • 17 Feb 2005 I called Cingular Customer Care and asked about my large AT&T bill and my suspiciously blank Cingular bill. By now I had an idea of what was going on, but I wanted to hear what they had to say. I first told them that my Cingular SIM card wasnt working in my new phone, and that my AT&T bill was huge.
    • The Cingular SIM They wanted to try to call me on with my Cingular SIM, so I switched it out and they called me and it worked! Lo and behold it worked! It wasn’t working about 10 days ago when I last checked, but it was working now. Okay, great.
    • The AT&T login Now can you help me with my billing problem? Actually, it was AT&T that charged you sir, not Cingular. Um aren’t you the same company now? Apparently they are the same company only in a legal sense. I was transferred to Mohammed at AT&T, a nice enough guy who helped me reenable my AT&T online login. He asked me what email address I would like my new password to be sent to and I told him. I never received the email.
    • The AT&T bill I called 866.293.4634, the AT&T support number, and got Brittany, a cheerful and sympathetic but ultimately powerless girl who transferred me to Karon, a more stuffy but still helpful woman. She tried calling the Cingular Customer Care for me while I was on hold. In discussing my situation with them, she eventually concluded that they were not at fault, and that they could offer me a $24 credit. Well, thats nice of her, but Im out more than $140, so can I talk to a manager? A senior rep. was put on named Natasha, who was the least helpful but the most illuminating of the three. She told me that AT&T didn’t do anything wrong since I was using the AT&T SIM card, and that I should take it up with Cingular. I appealed to her sense of reason when I reminded her that they are now the same company, but the way she responded baffled me (this is a paraphrase): AT&T and Cingular have merged, yes, but the backend is still very much separate. AT&T accounts are not Cingular accounts – in fact, AT&T does not have access to your Cingular account and Cingular does not have access to your old AT&T account. AT&T policies are different from Cingular policies, and I am actually not very familiar with the Cingular policies. I asked her why it was that my port, as they call it, took more than 45 days to complete and she said that sometimes that just happens, and that shed actually seen them take longer. I asked her if I was just expected to deal with the fact that I have a half-working cell phone for all that time. She basically said yes, and suggested I take recourse with Cingular since it was their SIM card that was faulty. I asked her what time the port finally finished and she answered, Oh, just a couple of minutes ago. Seems they weren’t going to do anything about it if I never complained.
  • 20 Feb 2005 I called them again and asked to speak with the supervisor and made it clear that I would not hang up until Id gotten to someone who could do something about it. Two levels up, three people talked amongst themselves and finally decided to:
    • Refund the amount on the latest AT&T bill above the base amount (effectively no activity, but still charging for the account).
    • Refund any activity from 28 Jan to 17 Feb, effectively making the account cancelled on 28 Jan.

Interpretation

I contacted AT&T and Cingular numerous times, each time explaining my situation as clearly as I could, telling them that I had switched from AT&T to Cingular and that Id like to know why my SIM card isn’t working properly. In only one case did anyone hint that it might not be a good idea that I use the AT&T SIM card, and what he said was double-bill, which I interpreted as that the minutes I used would go under both my AT&T and Cingular accounts. It turned out that I was not being double-billed in that sense, but that both of my accounts were very much alive and kicking. No one told me this might happen, and the reps (particularly Natasha) that I talked to said nearly explicitly that it was my fault for not knowing this. While it isn’t an unreasonable assumption to think that my accounts would be separate, neither is the assumption that they would be continuous! Are there really so many cases where the customer actually wants their cell phone services to overlap by 45 days? I doubt it.

What gives with this blame transfer? AT&T blames Cingular because it was their SIM card that was not working and Cingular blames AT&T because it is their bill that I’m having a problem with. They’re both missing the point. BOTH of their representatives large and small told me nothing about what continued usage of my AT&T SIM card would do, and you know why? I’m guessing they didn’t know. They were probably not trained to handle a situation like this, so even if it crossed their mind, they didn’t want to tell the customer something that might upset him, especially when its something that they don’t know for sure. Only one guy was brave enough to do it, and I thank him for it. The point remains that this single company is telling me that it is not to blame because I should have guessed the information I wanted to know – or, more accurately, I should have guessed the right questions to ask.

What Should Happen

I want all the minutes used on my AT&T SIM card from 31 Dec 2004 and later to be retroactively transferred to my Cingular account, and to retroactively close my AT&T account as it should have been closed. At least, this will have the effect I want: using 404 of my 450 anytime minutes from my Cingular plan during the last billing cycle and whatever minutes were used from 7 Feb to 17 Feb (the time during the current billing cycle that my AT&T SIM was still active). They can do whatever they want to their databases to get the desired effect, so long as the money and the minutes come out the same. I don’t care how they get it done, just get it done.

If they do not want to do this, I would like to suggest that they let me cancel my Cingular account without a termination fee. This way we both get hurt somewhat and we both walk away: they no longer get my business for the remainder of the 26 or so months Im obligated (and likely for life), and I am forced to pay them for their screw up. If they will not take my first or second suggestion, then I would like to take them to small claims court, but unfortunately I hardly see this as a worthwhile use of my time and money. So what will likely happen instead is that I will use whatever resources I deem expendable enough to ensure that no one I know uses AT&T or Cingular for any of their needs ever again. Ive got one person who’s prepared to boycott them: my girlfriend. What about you?

What Did Happen

We compromised. They appeared to be sick of dealing with me and I was pretty sick of dealing with them. The offered to clear all activity from the last billing cycle, making my AT&T bill $50 and my Cingular bill $50. Not great, but I’m $50 ahead at that point. Also, they offered to completely wipe the account and usage from 28 Jan to 17 Feb, which means I come out about $20 ahead. All in all, roughly $70 back out of an estimated $140. This doesn’t make me happy, but it satisfies me enough not to boycott them.