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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Adventures in Customer Service: AT&T readies another assult on my neighorhood

Yesterday, as I worked at my desk, I watched half a dozen young men in yellow reflective jackets walk up and down my street. They carried thick stacks of door hangers in one hand; their other hand clamped their cell phones to their ears.

One trudged up to my front door and hung two identical orange hangers on it.

Later, another came up and hung a bigger, white one.

I pulled them from the doorknob later in the day.

"We will be digging and upgrading facilities in your neighborhood," AT&T's flyer says. "Damage caused by this work will be repaired in a timely manner. If you have any questions, please contact us and use

Job # ____________________________________________

or call us at _______________________________________."

The flyer instructs me to leave my gates unlocked, free my yard of obstructions- without telling me what they consider an obstruction to be- and to keep my pets indoors.

I wanted to ask about that- I am never an unintentional obstructionist- but I can't. The flyer bears no job number or phone number to call.

I looked up AT&T's Gigapower website (has Dame Edna, now retired from the stage, joined the telecom's board?) and all I learned was that Gigapower is not presently available to me.

 photo dame_edna.jpg

I took up the orange hanger from ANSCO, AT&T's contractor. This time last year, they spent a month tearing up the right of way along the farm-to-market road my street links to (I will come back to this point).

"If you have any questions or comments concerning our work, please call Ansco & Associates at 877-245-6660 between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday," the flyer says.

So I called. I apologized for not knowing what I was calling about or when it might happen as the date and job number were not filled out on their flyer, either.

The lady on the line told me all about how there was no date because they didn't know when they would start. Weather and all. It might snow this weekend. But usually, it means within ten days.

"I understand weather, but why did you send me a flyer telling me to tell you the job number to find out what you are coming here to do, with no job number on it?"

"Is this the number it says you should call?" she asked.

I considered the abyss opening before me.


She took my address and put me on hold.

In a bit, she was back. She couldn't find a job number for my neighborhood.

"I'm a little concerned," I explained, "given what ANSCO did to my neighbors' yards this time last year. They drove and parked trucks in them, made huge ruts they never repaired, tore up great swathes of lawn to lay their fiber lines, and then left.

"When people went out to ask what was going on, everyone pretended not to understand English. There are still little red marker flags in people's yards, like the "do not remove" tags on pillows and seat cushions.

"It was weeks before anyone came back, and all they did was throw out some grass seed and straw. It looked like hell for nine months, and all my neighbors got for the trouble was the chance to pay AT&T more for internet access."

"I'm sorry," she responded, "we're just the customer service department here."

"Well, I'm sorry, too," I replied. "You guys picked this number for me to call."

She offered to go see if she could find out something and call me back. I advised I would call her back, and she should dig up all the facts she can, because if ANSCO starts tearing up my street, I won't be the only one calling, she can be sure of that.

ANSCO is a big regional cable and wireless contractor. It does not have a rating from the Better Business Bureau of Charlotte, which reports 25 complaints about their work.

Getting Gigapower and its competitor, Google Fiber, has been a nightmare for Charlotte residents who discovered their yards being torn up with little notice and shabby reparations.

WSOC-TV reported in October that Google Fiber installation contractors had been billed over $450,000 for damages around town. The City of Charlotte had to shell out $150,000 to replace a water main Google's contractor destroyed last spring.

According to a WNCN-TV report in November, it's the same all over North Carolina:
A public records request found more than 430 complaints have been filed against AT&T and more than 70 against Google in the city of Durham. 
According to the City’s consulting firm, Google tries to handle their own customer care and AT&T does not, thus the difference in the numbers.
Charlotte Agenda reported this in October:
AT&T says it has also closely monitored customer complaints. Before doing work in each neighborhood, the company leaves door hangers with information on who to contact if necessary. 
Like mine?
“As we work to expand our network in the Charlotte area, we place the highest priority on the safety of our customers, employees, contractors and area residents,” AT&T said in a statement. “We expect contractors performing work to expand our network to work with local utility providers and third-party utility line location services as projects get underway and rely on the accuracy of these services to dig safely. We work hard before, during and after construction to minimize cuts and disruptions for residents, and work quickly with all concerned to resolve any issues regarding our work.”
"Expect." "Rely on."

The Charlotte blog Land Use Matters offered a primer on dealing with The Invasion of The Fiber People, but only for Google:
I will not attempt to list the field supervisors for AT&T since they seem to change daily. I’ve not heard the same level of complaints from residents where Google is working; however, I’ve had representatives of Charlotte Water, Charlotte Fire Department and Piedmont Gas tell me that both companies are cutting lines. 
I live one house outside the city limits, which means utility installation issues devolve into finger pointing between Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Until the boring machine returns, the words of an old Vera Lynn classic will play in my thoughts:

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away...

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