Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

AT&T Trials March on for Investor

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

AT&T Trials March on for Investor

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, Times-Union columnist

In the late '60s, when she was one of the stars of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Lily Tomlin introduced a character named Ernestine, a smug telephone operator who delighted in telling unhappy customers: "We're the phone company. We don't care. We don't have to."

At the time AT&T was the classic legal monopoly, allowed to control telephone service across the land. Then the federal government broke up AT&T's monopoly. AT&T has been struggling ever since to find its niche. As a very minor AT&T stockholder, I have suffered with the company.

As a cable subscriber in Jacksonville, I have suffered because of the company (if spending a lot of time on hold constitutes suffering).

After its acquisition of MediaOne in 2000, AT&T Broadband became the largest cable company in America and took over the Jacksonville cable franchise.

I once asked Scott Westerman, general manager for MediaOne in Jacksonville before AT&T Broadband took over, why a consumer should pick cable over the increasingly affordable satellite dish. He argued that a cable company can provide a level of customer service that you won't get from a satellite provider.

While MediaOne certainly had its share of complaints, Westerman, to his credit, listed his home number in the phone book. But in the last two years -- and especially last summer -- getting any human being at the cable company, let alone a top administrator, has been hard to do.

Whether because of arrogance, incompetence or an unusual confluence of unexpected problems, AT&T Broadband has annoyed a lot of people in Jacksonville. Now, it's reaping the whirlwind.

The city has remained adamant that Jacksonville subscribers rate a rebate from AT&T Broadband for its failure to live up to aspects of the franchise agreement, including the provision that 90 percent of calls be answered in 30 seconds. …

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