IL - Chicago-Area Phone Customers Criticize Local Service Glitches Over Last 4 Months : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Chicago-Area Phone Customers Criticize AT&Ts Local Service

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Publication date: 2000-06-07

Jun. 7--Bartlett resident Fred Becker has been plagued with problems, from no dial tones to chronic busy signals, ever since he switched his local phone service to AT&T four months ago.

The situation came to a head last week when his 9-year-old daughter fell down a flight of stairs and cut her head. When Becker tried to call 911, he was greeted by an electronic voice telling him, "All circuits are busy." When his wife tried again moments later, she heard only dead silence on the other end of the receiver.

"I had to go over to my neighbor's house because we couldn't get the dial tone," said Becker, 38, who says he has had no luck getting AT&T to fix the problem.

Becker is among hundreds of west and northwest suburban residents who have been frustrated by AT&T's new local phone service. Since the fall, when AT&T started signing up customers, the Illinois Commerce Commission has logged 320 complaints, ranging from installers not showing up to customers being forced to sit on hold for 30 minutes.

AT&T officials acknowledged they have received some complaints since they started offering local phone service, but they said any glitches tend to be short-lived and typical of any new product launch.

Yet, if customer dissatisfaction increases, it could hamper the move toward competition in local phone service, which in the Chicago area still is dominated by Ameritech.

The unit of SBC Communications Inc. has some incentive to show that viable competition exists for local residential phone service. That is, after all, a federal requirement before Ameritech can realize its longstanding goal of offering its customers long distance. Meantime, many consumers continue waiting for a choice in local phone service that brings lower bills and more service options.

"The companies need to get these (problems) worked out or the customers are going to throw up their hands and say, 'It's not worth it,'" said Pat Clark, associate director for the Citizens Utility Board, which averages 10 complaints a week about AT&T's local service.

AT&T started offering its service to customers throughout the northwest suburbs last year through upgraded cable lines. It is now expanding the service to the west suburbs. The company plans to offer local phone service to some 600,000 customers throughout the Chicago area by the end of the year. By 2002, it hopes to provide local service to 3 million Chicago-area homes.

Company spokesman Mike Pruyn said AT&T conducted extensive tests to make sure its system was ready before signing up customers for the local phone service.

He expressed surprise and regret upon hearing about some of the complaints, including those of no dial tones and installers showing up unscheduled. He speculated that any gaps in service might be from Ameritech disconnecting a customer's phone line before AT&T can connect it.

"We wouldn't be offering the service if we weren't ready to provide it," Pruyn said. "Obviously, with any new service there are start-up problems. Certainly it is within our best interest to make sure that the customer has a satisfactory experience with us."

Mike King, a spokesman for Ameritech, said his company is bound by federal laws to encourage competition. AT&T has not contacted Ameritech with any complaints about gaps in service, he said.

But that didn't help Mary Koncel of Schaumburg. She decided to switch to AT&T in April to take advantage of cheaper rates, an extra phone line and five free hours of local service. What she got, she says, was a chronic case of run-around that left her without any phone service for a week.

The experience taught her how much she relies on the phone.

"My mother-in-law is in the hospital. It's like, how would these people get hold of me?" she said. "Accidents happen in the home. (You can) slip in the bathtub. What are you going to do, run next door?"



-- (, June 07, 2000

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