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Meet The New Boss

Yesterday AT&T said it is ramping up and expanding its bundled landline-plus-wireless service -- known as the Unity Plan, which sounds like the latest Iraq strategy from the Bush White House -- to add more rollover minutes and decrease the service requirements on the plan. That sounds great, but a quick look at the week's news indicates that "the new AT&T" looks a lot like the old Ma Bell in terms of crapp
Yesterday AT&T said it is ramping up and expanding its bundled landline-plus-wireless service -- known as the Unity Plan, which sounds like the latest Iraq strategy from the Bush White House -- to add more rollover minutes and decrease the service requirements on the plan. That sounds great, but a quick look at the week's news indicates that "the new AT&T" looks a lot like the old Ma Bell in terms of crappy customer service.Kevin Drum, blogger at the Washington Monthly, has an infuriating-but-hilarious post on his tribulations once he discovered that AT&T had slapped on a bunch of new features to his home phone service: "To recap: AT&T switched my service without telling me; added some new features I didn't want; hung up the first two times I called; was flatly unable to figure out who in their vast empire I needed to talk to on the third try; eventually told me there was no way to eliminate a feature unless I wanted to pay more; and then told me that sometime soon I wouldn't be able to use my fax machine anymore."

Freed last August from state price caps in California, AT&T has been busily raising rates by as much as 350%, reports the Los Angeles Times. "It's open season on telephone rates, so the companies are jacking prices up," Regina Costa, an analyst with the Utility Reform Network in San Francisco, told the newspaper. Like most of the big telcos, AT&T is hiking prices a la carte services to force customers into bundled services, which are seen as the cash cow of the future.

And even the wildly popular iPhone has generated customer complaints about the glacially slow speeds for Internet service over the multimedia gizmos: Faced with customer complaints about Internet performance on its EDGE network, AT&T is giving disgruntled users the option of a new data-free voice-only service plan for the iPhone, reports the IntoMobile blog. "Apparently, this last-ditch option will be offered as a retention tactic, to keep subscribers from completely canceling their iPhone plans due to the lackluster Web-surfing experience."

Now there's an irony: the world's hottest new mobile multimedia device is being downgraded to a plain old phone because the Internet service is so lousy. AT&T and the other big carriers are facing new competition from cable companies, satellite companies, the VoIP crowd, and other new entrants. Providing lousy service, and pushing customers into restrictive bundled plans, isn't exactly the most far-sighted way to fight back.

"We are making significant strides to develop services that change the way consumers think about their communications," Rick Welday, chief marketing officer for AT&T's consumer division, said in a press release on the new Unity plans. Funny, I thought complaining about lousy service had been around since Alexander Graham Bell's day.