AT&T and the Competence Question

January 31st, 2014

So I recently updated our Web server, which also handles email. So far so good. We actually switched over to a box with a pair of solid state drives, delivering the potential for much faster performance. We’ll see.

In the meantime, it didn’t take long for me to encounter problems getting my email on my iPhone 5s when I wasn’t connected via Wi-Fi to my home router. When I was on AT&T’s wireless network, I got a prompt that the device couldn’t connect to that server. Since I have several domains with different email addresses, this meant several of those prompts every few minutes. Annoying? You bet!

Well, I contacted AT&T support, and it became even more annoying. In fact, it took several tries to locate anyone who had a handle on the nature of my problem, or the possible solution.

Now many of you are aware of how the Internet works, and the slow process of the Domain Name System (DNS) in updating information on new domains or domain changes. For those who aren’t into such things, DNS essentially converts the domain name, such as, to its corresponding IP number. Now different ISPs will usually have different DNS systems, and it may take a day or two (sometimes longer) for the servers to record changes, or even the existence of a new domain.

Now a large ISP or telecom company, such as AT&T, doesn’t give customers direct access to the team who handles those servers, and that’s understandable. More important, if there’s a problem, finding the source and having it fixed may be near impossible.

But I tried.

First I dialed up the regular AT&T support line, and tried to explain what was happening, that I wasn’t able to reach my email or Web server. At this point, the conversation became essentially useless. I dared to use the term “DNS” and I heard silence. The support person had no clue what I was talking about. After going through a couple of levels of this non-response, I was offered the chance to talk to someone who could help me configure my email account.

I was also asked whether it was a “business” email account, and when I said yes, the support person came to the conclusion that it was a Microsoft Exchange issue. This is all about Microsoft’s control of the enterprise, but obviously it had nothing to do with anything I said, since I told them I was accessing an IMAP server. I might as well have said that the moon is turning into a gray radish for all it mattered.

You see, most support people on that level are trained to handle the most basic customer issues, and configuring an email account may seem simple, but there are pitfalls. While it’s fairly straightforward on an iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy smartphones I’ve tried offer dozens and dozens of sometimes absurd options to configure, and I can see where people encounter difficulties, particularly if they make the wrong choice about which options to select.

Over a period of roughly 45 minutes, I was transferred several times to different support people. At one point, I even reached a voice messaging system claiming that my wireless plan with AT&T did not include support for the service I wanted.

When I pressed the “0” button on my phone, I was actually connected to Apple support. I got a sympathetic response when I described my problem, but we both knew that it was up to AT&T to sort things out.

So I called AT&T again, and got handed off to a supervisor and explained my dilemma. This time I reached someone who actually seemed to know what I was talking about, or maybe I was inferring a little too much from the conversation.

Regardless, this time I received a promise that the team handling such issues would be notified via email about the problem. I gave her the server hostname and the root domain name, and took the brazen approach of requesting a service credit for my time and trouble. I reminded her that this server handled my business email and it was critical that I access those communications while on the road.

I also rather suspect that AT&T would rather not lose the business from a customer who had been with them seven years. That’s a fairly long time in the wireless carrier business. For the most part, service has actually been pretty good, though T-Mobile’s promise of early termination fee rebates and cheaper rates is very tempting. But it’s by no means certain I’ll get better service, particularly since T-Mobile’s coverage is far worse than AT&T in the rural areas.

In any case, I got a service credit that covers the monthly fee I pay for the iPhone on their family plan. Even better, after several hours, the problem was resolved. Now maybe it was all about AT&T’s DNS servers catching up and recording the correct hostname for my email server. Or maybe their support people actually did something.

Regardless, at least it works, despite the aggravation in setting things right. What’s more, I don’t know if any other wireless carrier would have done any better.

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One Response to “AT&T and the Competence Question”

  1. Articles you should read (Jan. 31) …. says:

    […] “AT&T and the competence question: So I recently updated our Web server, which also handles email. So far so good. We actually switched over to a box with a pair of solid state drives, delivering the potential for much faster performance. We’ll see.” —Read the article on > […]

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