Monday, October 22, 2012

UVERSE after one month

So far, AT&T UVERSE seems to be working out OK.

UPDATE:  June 2013.  It has been several months since we signed up for AT&T UVERSE and so far, we like it.  I have edited this entry to correct some data and add more information.

It has been a few weeks since I signed up for AT&T UVERSE service for both voice and internet (they do not offer television here, nor do I want it).   And so far, so good.

The only fly in the ointment has been their customer service by phone.   I would advise just not calling AT&T as their call centers are horrific and you will wait on hold forever and get nothing resolved.

Their website, however, is pretty well designed, even if it could include more information.

I signed up for their elite 6 mps service, which cranks over 5.5 mps on a regular basis.  This costs $43 a month.  The VoIP phone line costs $25 a month for 250 minutes.   The internet speed is more than adequate for most uses, including video streaming, such as Netflix.

The install was painless, although delayed by a day.  There was some confusion as to whether AT&T DSL would disconnect first.  They did, right after the UVERSE installer called.  I called him back, and he arrive about an hour later.

I had a separate line run directly from my Network Interface Box to my DSL modem/router, bypassing the customer interface. I did this so I could filter all the house lines with one filter (so I could use my AT&T business phones with intercom).  This made the UVERSE install about a 20-minute deal.  Unplug the DSL modem, plug in the UVERSE modem, and voila.   For normal wiring, it might take longer, of course.

The house phones were then back-fed through a wall jack, and the network interface disconnected, so the signal did not feed-back to the pole.   All up and running in about 45 minutes overall, with us bullshitting and whatnot.

The tech was pretty good, once I explained to him my unique phone wiring arrangement.   He was not a Communications Worker of America Union member, and you can see where AT&T is going with this.  UVERSE is not a "regulated utility" and the eventual goal, I think, is to spin off the wireline side to some shell company like Frontier Communications, and then stick with unregulated services like UVERSE, which is based on fiber optic.

My internet speed is about twice as fast as before, and yes, this is noticeable.  The phone signal is clear and strong, and not weird like some Vonage lines or magic jack.  I'd say the quality is better than POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) bandwidth.

The 250 minute a month thing was troubling, as I used a number of minutes initially.  Additional minutes are 5 cents apiece, and you could easily go over and end up paying more than you would for the "unlimited" service of $35 a month.  Was it really worth it to save $10?  For me, I think, yes.   But how the minutes are billed was initially a mystery.

Again the website is useful, as it provides a log of billed minutes and also a log of all phone calls, incoming and outgoing.    By comparing the two, reading the site, as well as going to their user forums, I learned that:

1.  Unused minutes do not "rollover" to the next month.

2.  Incoming calls do not count toward your minutes.

3.  1-800 calls DO count toward your minutes.

4.  You can check your billed minutes in near-real-time (it updates on the half hour)

5.  You can check your total phone call log in real time.

So far, I am under the 250 minute level, so I don't see this as an issue.  On the rare instance I went over the 20 minute level, the excess use charges were less than the $10 I would have paid for the "unlimited" service.  At 5 cents a minute, you'd have to talk another 200 minutes to reach the $10 level.   We don't yak on the phone, and so far, we are averaging about 160 minutes a month.   Long distance calls, again are free, within the USA.

On the website, you can change a lot of your phone settings, which is much better than landline, as that requires you CALL IN to make settings changes.  You can set up call forwarding, call blocking, and also block overseas calls and directory assistance (for example, if you don't want your kids or customers making expensive phone calls!).  I chose to block both.

Sadly, you can only block up to 20 incoming calls.  Fraudulent telemarketing calls (there are no other kind these days, in the post "Do Not Call" era.   If someone calls you on the phone trying to sell you something, or claiming to be from your credit card company, it is likely a fraud.  Hang up).  Being able to block these calls is helpful.

For overseas calls, we use an AT&T calling card, which I think is the best option if you only occasionally call overseas.

The voicemail system works well, but requires a six-digit PIN.  You can set the number of rings to as many as six (!!!) so there is no more running to the phone.  When on vacation, I either set the phone to forward to my cell phone, or give out the cell number in the answering machine message (so telemarketer calls are not forwarded).  You can also set up the voicemail system to notify you by e-mail or text if you receive a message.  You can also "merge" your voicemail with your wireless voicemail, but this permanently closes your wireless voicemail account.  I declined to do this.

Again, the online phone interface is nice and easy to use, once you explore it.  It gives you a lot of control over your phone line - including features that in the old days, required a service order and some tech to go out to the "switch" to implement.

The sound quality is also good.  Probably better than landline, if not just as good.

So, the service works great, customer support by phone sucks (what else is new?) and the website is pretty decent.  What about the billing?

I got my first bill today.  They nailed me for $200 in install fees and the modem cost.  This offsets the "discount" for the first year's usage neatly (I save $276.60 with the package, over one year).  I was charged $6 in State and County Taxes and a $5.59 "Federal Universal Service Charge" whatever that is.  Whether or not this is a recurring charge, I do not know.  It appears to be so, as it was not listed as a "One-Time Charge".  I will update when the next bill comes.

Actually, that is an interesting line-item, and it will be interesting to see if it is repeated.  They told me on the phone that there were no such additional charges to appear on the bill.  And as the link above notes, this is not some 'mandatory' charge that the FCC requires, but actually a business expense that AT&T chooses to pass on to their customers in their bills:

Because telephones provide a vital link to emergency services, to government services and to surrounding communities, it has been our nation’s policy to promote telephone service to all households since this service began in the 1930s. The USF helps to make phone service affordable and available to all Americans, including consumers with low incomes, those living in areas where the costs of providing telephone service is high, schools and libraries and rural health care providers. Congress has mandated that all telephone companies providing interstate service must contribute to the USF. Although not required to do so by the government, many carriers choose to pass their contribution costs on to their customers in the form of a line item, often called the “Federal Universal Service Fee” or “Universal Connectivity Fee”.

The phone service was billed at $25 (plus a pro-rated amount for the first month).  And additional "Federal Universal Service Charge" of $3.20 was assessed,  plus the Georgia 911 service fee of $1.50, which appears to be a flat-rate fee.

From what I can see, the FUSC is about 6% of the overall bill for services.  How AT&T calculates this is a mystery to me.

The internet was billed at $19.95 (the promotional rate, $43 regularly) with no apparent add-ons or fees.

Assuming the County and State sales taxes were only for the modem ($100 value, 6% dales tax), and the $5.59 FUSC was for that as well (it was also billed separately for the phone service) I can assume that our "regular" phone bill might be as follows:

1.  UVERSE Elite Internet (6 mps):  $43
2.  Phone service, 250 minutes per month:   $25
3. GA County 911 Service Fee:   $1.50
4.  Federal Universal Service Charge:  $4.27

TOTAL:  $73.77 (Ouch)
Using the same calculation for the "promotional" service, I would expect my "regular" bill for the first 12 months will be $49.27.   So you get short-term relief with these "Come ons" but as I noted, since the overall savings are about $293.97 (with taxes) and you pay $210.59 (with taxes) for the modem install, the net savings is only about $83.37, or one month's free service.  And of course, you are locked into a 12-month contract.

Is this a savings?  Well, my last few AT&T DSL/Landline bills, billed at the regular monthly rate, have been on the order of $89.45 to $106.22.  So this looks to be a savings of $15 to $30 a month, compared to their current billing rates.  This could be a savings of $180 to $360 a year.  But savings can be deceiving when you are comparing to inflated prices.  My AT&T bills were as low as $60 a month, last year, and only in the last 12 months have been edging up, for reasons that the customer service department seems impossible to explain.

And since this is basically my only telecommunications bill (other than the $100 a year I spend on my AT&T Gophone) I guess it is not too bad, overall.

Compared to some folks, who have a $100 a month cable bill, a $100 a month phone bill, and a $100 a month cell phone bill, I guess I am not doing too badly.   And when you ask people what they pay for their phone bill, cell phone, or Cable bill, invariably they quote you the come-on "promotional" price, not the actual price - and certainly not with all the fees added on!   I have heard this from many people, who claim their cable bill is "$39.99 a month!" which of course, is not correct.  People lie to themselves, a lot, it seems.

Is there room for savings?  Yea, maybe.  I could try using a 3rd party phone service, like MagicJack, or some other VoIP provider.   But my experience with such services has been odd sounding phone calls and dropped calls.  And the better VoIP providers, like Vonage, are no big savings over $25 to $25 a month.  And yea, they are starting to charge 911 fees as well now, too.

And I could drop to a lower Internet speed as well, and save some money.  Movies stream just fine at 3 mps over the DSL line.  I suppose I could drop to a lower speed and save money there as well.

So, my initial verdict is this:
1. Better connection than DSL and landline.
2.  Easy install
3.  Better website service for features
4.  Lousy customer service over the phone
5.  Slight savings in price, over time.
But overall, I would prefer to pay less than $77, and next year, I will examine this plan again, carefully, and see if we can trim it further.

Someday, when I am retired, perhaps I will have no internet service, and just go online once a week to answer e-mails, at the local Internet cafe.  Now, that would be sweet!

UPDATE:  So far, after six months, I have to say the service has been good, with no interruptions, decent internet speed, no surprises in the billing, and good phone service.   I am not looking forward to the expiration of the promotional pricing, but again, the "standard" pricing is going to be less than what I was paying for landline and DSL.

I offer no opinion for UVERSE TV.  People who watch TV are idiots and deserve all the bad Karma coming to them, anyway.