AT&T: Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap

My nightmare started less than 24 hours ago.

Spend just a few moments on the blogosphere and you will find a lot of stories just like mine.

On Google, Facebook and Twitter, these dark tales of woe, deceit and theft abound.

But my story is a tad different.  And this, my friends, is the first warning shot across the bow of a corporate giant aircraft carrier that likely will pay little attention.

attI am talking about AT&T, one of the nation’s largest and most well-known corporations.

AT&T (NYSE:T) is a Fortune 500 company and of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Their reported consolidated revenue for the 2011 reporting period was $126.7 billion. Randall L. Stephenson is the chairman and CEO of AT&T.

So now you know what I’m up against, but don’t count me out just yet.

Allow me to back up and offer some context.

I have been a loyal AT&T customer for more than 7 years. I have a Family Plan that is also used by my wife and two teenage step-sons. I have a data bundle, unlimited text and 1,500 minutes of monthly talk time. My average monthly bill runs approximately $200 every month.

I have upgraded my phones over the last few years. I have never said an unkind word about AT&T in the public realm, despite their rather dismal coverage and the fact that my cell phone is essentially useless in my own home. But I am hooked into everlasting contracts, and until now it seemed like a giant pain in the ass to leave.

But then this happened:

Last evening, I received an automated call from AT&T, suggesting that I should consider a new plan. Curious, I went to view my account online and almost had a massive coronary. According to AT&T, I owe them $1,016.21.

Go here to find out how it happened and how AT&T repeatedly failed in even the most basic of customer service tasks.

I spoke with at least two representatives, including a young man named Rico, a “customer satisfaction specialists,” who didn’t seem to know the first thing about customers or service.  In summary, AT&T refused to budge.

Somehow, I was able to get Rico to set down his scripted talking points and listen to me for just a few seconds. And this is what I said.

 I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for me to pay this bill, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you adjust this bill now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill your company’s reputation.

For good measure, I threw in some other key phrases like Maine Public Utilities Commission, Maine Office of the Public Advocate and Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

I am going to haunt AT&T’s Facebook page and chase them on Twitter. I am going to call their customer service line every day, multiple times a day. I am going to shout my story from the rooftops, call every member of the Legislature, file formal complaints and talk to my friends in the media.

I am going to buy AT&T stock so that I can participate in shareholder conference calls and stay updated on their corporate affairs. I am going to e-mail Randall Stephenson daily, sometimes two or three times a day. I am going to create a Facebook page and make sure that Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile know about it.

Strangely, there are several fun URL domains available, i.e.;, etc.

ATT-Logo-NJTechReviewsBut in the end, AT&T has me over a barrel. They can impact my credit report if I don’t pay on time. They have me locked in a contract.

But I am motivated, and unlike the foolishness and aimlessness of the Occupy fiasco, I have a clear objective: AT&T is going to spend at least 10 times more than what they are charging me for international calls that I never made.

Companies like AT&T spend millions every year to attract customers in a competitive market. They spend millions more on lobbyists and on PR professionals like me.

Go ahead and laugh, who could blame you? But consider this: social media helped bring down the Egyptian president. Lech Walesa, a Polish Factory worker, brought the Soviet Union to its knees in a matter of weeks. David beat Goliath and elephants are terrified of mice.

I invite you to join me in my crusade. I am going to have fun, and you can follow my progress with regular updates here.

Meanwhile, I will wrap it up here with a wonderful quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Hey, AT&T: can you hear me now? You guys may want to rethink possible.

AT&T customers are welcome to join the fight. Tell me your story here


Straight, No Chaser

Yesterday was amazing.

I’m not a social media expert, and I am wary of such titles. But I am fascinated by the new communications tools at our disposal.

angry-computer-guyWithin the last 48 hours, I published two new items on this blog, one about tension in Biddeford created by a push to enhance the city’s “creative economy,” and the other about my ongoing journey with mental illness.

Guess which one generated the most buzz? You might be surprised.

I was.

People sometimes ask me why I write this blog. The answer is simple. I just like doing it.

Self-described social media experts will tell you that the best blogs are those with a single focus, those that focus primarily upon a specific topic. I think that’s pretty good advice for building an audience, but this blog does not follow those generally accepted rules to attract visitors.

Instead, this blog is all over the place, though primarily focuses on politics and my mental illness. It is driven by my raging brain that needs a release: a cyber-coded pressure relief valve.

Although my latest post about Biddeford generated lots and lots of discussion and varying arguments on Facebook, it didn’t hold a candle to my post about my 30th anniversary of being discharged from a psychiatric hospital: broke, unemployed and homeless.

That post about the worst and best day of my life soared off  the analytics chart. Within two hours of publication, traffic to that post smashed the record for any other post in the last two years — a whopping 670 percent jump, attracting readers from Norway, Japan and England.

Why? I have a theory.

There is a lot of information out there, but a lot of it is simply varying perspectives on the same subjects.

Closer examination of my analytics reveals an interesting trend. When I write about my own unique experiences with mental illness, traffic is at its highest. It drops off  when I poke at Biddeford’s political dynamics; it falls even further when I write about Maine politics; and is at its lowest point when I weigh in about national politics, generating no more than three or four hundred unique hits.

Web surfers are weary and inundated by a flood of information about politics and hot-button issues.  Media critics rely on a tired adage: If it bleeds, it leads

But readers do respond and connect with personal stories. They like stories that restore their faith in humanity. They can only argue and fight for so long. Deep down, we want to feel good and connected to our fellow humans.

We all have our own struggles. We are encouraged by stories of overcoming adversity. Our faith is restored. Our energy is renewed, and we want to share the good news.

Like any other writer, I take satisfaction in knowing people are willing to read what I write. I was happy about yesterday’s spike in traffic, but the number of visitors here really doesn’t matter. So, I will continue ranting about any subject that pops into my brain.

But there is an important lesson for all you folks who want to deliver a message. Connect with your audience by being unique and honest.