AT&T sells me DSL they don’t have; charges me $100 for pointing this out

I know Early Termination Fee stories are all too common these days, but I thought I might share mine.

My wife and I moved to a new house last December. During the utilities setup routine, I researched our Internet options and was attracted to AT&T’s “Basic” DSL package (“up to 768 Kbps” for $20 a month).

Once my equipment arrived and my activation date reached — which by the way, I had to wait another week after receiving the equipment for it to be activated. What the hell? — I found the service to be borderline useless. My DSL downtime was approaching almost 12 hours each day, and when it did happen to work, my download speeds were crawling below 100 Kbps.

Hoo boy. Time to complain.

I contacted AT&T through their online “Live Chat” support, where I was given tips for placement of my modem within my home — which I tried to no avail. I tried the “Live Chat” support once more and they reluctantly sent out a technician to my home. At this point, between the equipment shipping, activation delay and troubleshooting, I was beyond the 30-day “no ETF” cancellation window.

One rainy Friday morning, a tech showed up at my house, looked at some wires outside (he didn’t even step inside my home), said that he saw what the problem was and needed to schedule another technician to fix it. The issue should be resolved soon, he told me.

Weeks and months go by with no improved service. Full disclosure: during this time, I discovered my neighbor’s open WiFi and had been blissfully enjoying the uninterrupted high-speed Internet, so the annoyance of my own network was forgotten for a while.

Eventually the guilt of “borrowing” my neighbor’s Internet engulfed me and I tried once again to resolve my AT&T DSL woes. Being such a nice guy and all, I decided to try upgrading my service, hoping a faster package might boost my signal. I called AT&T and was directed to their sales department. While the sales person was “happy to assist me with upgrading my service”, they quickly discovered that my house was ineligible for any service other than the “Basic” package. Apparently my home was too far to the main DSL line. “That’s too bad,” I told him, “Then could you please cancel my service?” He transferred me to someone else and my service was canceled without any objection on AT&T’s part. I had Time Warner High-Speed Cable Internet within a few days and couldn’t be happier.

Weeks later I received a $100 early termination fee from AT&T. My eye twitched.

I spent an afternoon on the phone going through the AT&T billing center. I calmly explained my situation:

  • My DSL service was not working,
  • I contacted AT&T support,
  • They sent a technician,
  • The problem was not fixed,
  • I tried upgrading and was told I couldn’t,
  • I had no choice but to cancel the service,
  • And I would like this $100 fee removed.

After a few rounds of “sorry sir” and “let me speak to your manager”, I still received no resolution; the $100 fee stands.

Here are some interesting bits of information from “Lauren”, the highest-ranked person I was able to talk to.

  • There is no record of any technician coming to my home. I must be lying about this.
  • AT&T acknowledges that my home is far from the main line; my home cannot support faster DSL packages. According to Lauren however, I apparently meet the minimum requirements for the “Basic” package

I know that this “up to” portion of advertised speed gets a lot of press lately, so I was shocked to hear the following from Lauren:

  • If AT&T were to provide a constant speed of 0 Kbps (e.g. no service), this still qualifies as service within their contract.


Okay now here’s the real kicker: I later noticed that if I “Check for Availability” on AT&T’s website, my home address is now listed as “Unavailable” for ALL packages, including the Basic. That is correct. If I were to ask Lauren to restart my service, she would not be able to because my home cannot support it.

AT&T Live Chat representative “Shirley” also confirms this.

To add salt to the wound, AT&T has also now sent the bill to a collection agency.

Look, I’m honestly not trying to screw AT&T out of money here. I’m paying AT&T ~$100/month for my damn iPhone already; this isn’t about the money. This is a principle thing.

If I had to move suddenly or some unforeseen event forced me to cancel my service unexpectedly, I have no problem paying the early termination fee. My point here is that AT&T advertised a service to me that they could not provide. And now they are charging me $100 for canceling this broken service.

I am 25 years old. I hopefully have a few more decades of “potential customer” in me. And frankly this whole incident leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

Any tips? Any horror stories with AT&T DSL?


Comments (13) Trackbacks (1)
  1. DC
    11:10 AM on September 8th, 2010

    My suggestion would be to contact the AG of Georgia about this see what, if anything, they can do. After all they failed to provide service.

  2. Casey
    11:27 AM on September 8th, 2010

    Go to and file a complaint. That will get the ball rolling. Call them up, require that they give you the registered agent for your locality and pay the $100. When you ask for the registered agent that means you will be filing a small claims court case. Visit you local court house and file a small claims case. Don’t let this mess with your credit too.

  3. AD
    12:00 PM on September 8th, 2010

    I had a very similar problem to this when I ordered AT&T DSL in Los Angeles. Service would only work between 7am & 7pm exactly – the hours when I’m at work. Three separate techs found no issues with the phone lines and set up in my apartment, but were not authorized to check the connection outside the building and at the hub, so they each left saying an outdoor tech would come next to check the hub. After about a week, a fourth (outdoor) tech with authorization was sent to check outside and at the hub and he told me that the hub for our area was overloaded so it was giving me service for those 12 hours and then another customer service for the 7pm to 7am hours. I don’t know if this is true or not, but he also added that there was nothing to be done unless the hub was upgraded and that wouldn’t be worth it for one customer on a discounted plan. So I immediately called AT&T and managed (after a few escalations) to cancel my service with no ETF and a full refund of previous payments. Oh, and as I was trying to cancel I was repeatedly offered to upgrade my DSL and asked if I really needed service 24 hours a day.

  4. talk2theseguys
    4:47 PM on September 8th, 2010

    Might talk to these guys, they are quite busy but better than calling at&t. I gave up trying to call them anymore for service issues. The one named “David” can be contacted from the site there.

  5. Scout
    12:01 AM on September 9th, 2010

    Go to the Georgia Public Service Commission web site and file a complaint (located in the Consumer’s Corner link). They’ll put in a call to AT&T and poof, your ETF should disappear.

  6. Don
    1:04 AM on September 9th, 2010

    Screw em. Every decent size town has the tv news “On you side” investigator. You’ll when the court case regardless, but lets spread the bad publicity a bit further.

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  8. Eric
    1:57 PM on November 26th, 2010

    I just filed a complaint against AT&T South with the GA PSC as well as the BBB, FTC & FCC. I had their DSL service as well, it worked fine, but I came upon a decent deal from my cable company and ported my landline to the cable co and when that happened, the DSL service was canceled as well.. When I had initially ordered the DSL service back in June/July of this year I was never told of any ETF or 12 month commitment. I paid the final bill after porting out and then 2 months later (Nov 2010) I receive a “revised final bill” with the $120 DSL ETF on it. Called their billing department and spoke to a supervisor and pretty much was told that I was lying and there wasn’t anything she can do about it since she wasn’t on the initial sales call.

    If I had known there would be a contract and/or an ETF I would have never ordered their DSL service.

    Apparently you or myself aren’t the only ones dealing with these arrogant fools.

    I’m pretty much done with AT&T for life and I’m 33. They are known by me as AF&F (A Fee & Fee).

  9. Rip
    10:48 PM on March 20th, 2011

    AT&T does not like to waive the $100 ETF. I Had a situation where I was oving after a years lease was up, but due to the lag time in getting dsl I was only 50 weeks into my contract. because the new tenant wanted service, I had no choice but to terminate my contract with two weeks left ( I was moving to someplace where At&T didn’t provide dsl) .

    Even though I told them to go ahead a charge me for the full final month, they instead insisted on prorating the bill and charging me the ETF. I could make no headway, no matter how much I ranted. I never paid it, and when “Kenny” with the collection agency called from India, I politely told him I was still waiting for a response to the written complaint I had made and that the bill was still in dispute. That was the last I heard about it ( three years ago)

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  11. Carolyn
    2:56 PM on November 1st, 2011

    I am going through the SAME EXACT situation right now. My AT&T DSL service never worked. When I first called them to set up my internet, they searched my address and told me that service was available. I tried calling customer service and tech support with NO HELP and surprisingly, NO RECORD of me even calling them! I refused to pay my bill because my service never worked. I returned the modem a month ago and BAM, yesterday I received a bill for $112 early termination fee. This is ridiculous. I have to call and complain today! I also want to file some formal complaints on AT&T. I have never had to deal with a company as horrendous as AT&T. I am not using Time Warner for RoadRunner internet and so far, everything is working perfectly fine and their customer support is amazing.

  12. Carolyn
    2:57 PM on November 1st, 2011

    Typo: I am NOW using Time Warner.

    They are great!

  13. mxibop
    4:27 AM on March 4th, 2012

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