"It Ain't Like it Used to Be"

"It Ain't Like it Used to Be"

Post by Mark J. Cucci » Fri, 21 Jun 1996 04:00:00

While competition in the telecom industry over the past fifteen to
twenty years has brought us many benefits, the former "Bell System"
did supply us with IMO the *best* customer service and attempts at
resolving problems in competing a call over the telephone network.

I recently mentioned in this Digest that an AT&T operator told me that
I would get the customer card rate, rather than the more expensive
operator assisted or operator handled rate when I came in to an AT&T
OSPS operator directly when I had the LEC (BellSouth) Intra-LATA
'only' operator dial 800-CALL-ATT (800-225-5288) for me, as there was
no ANI passed through the LEC operator connecting me with the 800
number. The AT&T part of the network had '504-000-5555' or something
like that for the ANI, and an AT&T operator had to intercept in to get
the calling number I was at.

It turns out that AT&T operator assisted calls *still* are *NOT*
giving the customer the cheaper 1+ rate, nor even the customer card
rate when an AT&T Operator is called upon to assist in completing the
call in a problem situation. If you come into the AT&T OSPS Operator
on a "0-" which includes 00 from presubscribed lines, 10-288/101-0288+0(0/#)
or the 800 access numbers (800-CALL-ATT, 800-3210-ATT) and ask the
operator to *dial* the called number, you are billed operator handled
rate, even if you explain that you have a *real problem* in completing
the call when you've tried to dial it yourself. The only time you can
get an operator assisted rate is if you've dialed
(10-288/101-0288)+0/01+number (full domestic or full international)
for collect or third party, or used the 800 access numbers and then
DTMF in the destination number yourself, and then 'timing-out' to an
operator. You can only get the cheaper customer card rates the same
way. You *must* enter in the destination number in one way or another.
The operator can still 'key-in' the card number which you quote to
her, such as when calling from a rotary phone, and I think you still
get customer card rate, but the customer has to enter in the full
destination number. This has been the situation for about three years

Last night, I was trying to call someone in northern New Jersey, 201
area code. It is a local Bell Atlantic (formerly New Jersey Bell)
number, served by a digital switch. I don't know if the 201-NNX is a
WECO#5ESS or a Nortern DMS, however. I was trying to bill it to a
card. I dialed 0-201-NNX-XXXX from a presubscribed line to AT&T, heard
the bong & jingle for AT&T, entered in my card number, heard the AT&T
'thank you', and then crackling and screeching. I entered the '#'
button to do a sequence call.  I was prompted okay, and re-entered the
201-NNX-XXXX number. Again I heard the AT&T 'thank you' message, and
then *ONE* ring, followed by silence.  When I tried asking 'Hello', it
echoed back to me. I tried to enter the '#' button to disconnect and
do a sequence call, but all I heard was the frequency of the '#'
echoing back. I don't know if the far-end 'supervised' or not, as I
couldn't 'disconnect' a far-end with the '#' button.

I hung up, and dialed an AT&T Operator, 00. I explained the situation
to get credit, just in case the far-end did supervise. I tried calling
back to the 201 NJ number, via my AT&T Calling Card, and still got
either 'screeching' and 'scratching' and 'crackling' tones (it was
*NOT* a modem or a fax machine, but really a 'bad connection'), or a
single ring followed by silence (with echo) on subsequent attempts.
Sometimes I could '#' a disconnect, sometimes I couldn't.

I called up AT&T Long Distance Repair (800-222-3000), ran through a
touchtone menu prompt, and waited on hold for ten minutes. Finally I
hung up and called back to the Operator (00) and asked for a
supervisor. She told me that unless she had a formal report from AT&T
higher-ups in network management, she couldn't give me the cheaper
rates (customer card in my case) for her to dial the 201 number. Just
my complaint that I had problems wouldn't get me the cheaper customer
card rates. If the call were intraLATA or local, BellSouth LEC
operators still give you the cheapest rates *if you indicate* to her
that you've tried it yourself and had a trouble condition, if they
dial the destination number on their TOPS or OSPS board.

I called back to AT&T Long Distance Repair, waited fifteen minutes on
hold, and finally spoke with a rep. She was polite, but you could tell
that she did NOT like the present situations at AT&T. She put me on
hold and tried to dial the 201-NNX-XXXX number. She came back and
asked me if I was trying "a good number", as she couldn't get through
properly. I said that I've called that number many times before, and
everything usually worked okay. I also told her that I had no way of
knowing if the problem was AT&T, Bell Atlantic or the wiring or CPE of
the party I was trying to reach. The AT&T Repair rep asked me if I
knew who the number was listed under. I told her and she said that she
would put me on hold and check with "Jersey Bell"!  (note that she
referred to the far-end LEC as "Jersey Bell" rather than Bell
Atlantic). She came back and told me that "Jersey Bell" repair service
told her that there was a trouble condition on the line which the
customer had reported. They were going to try to correct the problem
on Thursday.

Now ... why didn't Bell Atlantic (or "Jersey Bell") put an intercept
on the line, such as "The number you have reached, 201-NNX-XXXX, is
being checked for trouble". I know I get recordings like that from my
LEC, BellSouth, when I've dialed a local or intraLATA toll call via
the BellSouth network where there has been trouble on the line. Could
it be that calls from outside of that Bell Atlantic northern NJ LATA
won't connect to those intercept type recordings? Why couldn't "Jersey
Bell" just return a busy or re-order signal?

And why in the HECK can't AT&T still give the customer the cheaper
rate bracket when the customer HAS INDICATED to the AT&T OSPS operator
that they've attempted dialing everything themself, but they are
encountering a trouble condition.

The funny thing about it ... the party in New Jersey whom I was
attempting to reach is a Bell System retiree, who was with Bell Labs
for *DECADES* and involved in the development of DDD and many aspects
of computer technology.

Prior to about three years ago, if I would have told the AT&T operator
that I was having a 'bad connection' in trying the call myself, she
would have dialed it and given me the cheaper rate for the type of
billing I requested.  If she also heard a 'bad connection', she would
have tried to get an AT&T or New Jersey Bell inward (Kp+201+121+St)
operator in the New Jersey area, who might have had some details on
why the call didn't go through properly, and would have been able to
make a 'local' type call to that number for me and the originating
AT&T operator I had reached. And why didn't I get a 'busy' or
'reorder', or better yet an 'intercept' recording indicating that the
desired number was experiencing a 'trouble condition'?!

BTW, I did ask the AT&T Repair rep why couldn't the AT&T 00 Operator
attempt placing the call for me or getting an inward operator in New
Jersey to assist and still give me the cheaper customer card rate,
since there *WAS INDEED* a trouble condition which I indicated, just
like they *used* to do it up until a few years ago. The repair rep
told me that this is 1996 and not 1976 nor even 1986.

It ain't like it used to be! :-(

MARK J. CUCCIA   PHONE/WRITE/WIRE:     HOME:  (USA)    Tel: CHestnut 1-2497
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I'll tell you another interesting development
with AT&T. Everyone by now knows they are trying to get into local service
all over the United States. Here in the Chicago area they have been putting
large ads in newspapers recruting customers for their 'local-toll' thing,
where calls to points more than 15 miles distant but still within the LATA
can be carried by AT&T instead of Illinois Bell/Ameritech if desired.
Their rates for those calls are not that competitive at all with Ameritech
and as you might suspect there are tricky ways of phrasing things and
billing things which make them seem cheap to start with when actually
they are quite expensive in the long term. Ameritech's advertising has
been quick to point out the flaws in AT&T's method of billing for
those calls and how Ameritech still remains less expensive.

Recently AT&T has been running ads saying they will give the first
three months of 'local-toll' calls absolutely free if you sign up. Use
it as much as you want. Today in their ad all of a sudden, the terms
changed slightly, but you would not know it unless you read the very
small print at the bottom of the full page ad. Now, calls must begin
and terminate in Ameritech or Centel service areas (GTE has a couple
of small service area within this LATA apparently no longer eligible
because they are quite far away) and furthermore, and in my opinion
the real kicker: ** Calls between computers are not included in this
offer. ** The exact wording went like this: Applies to calls in
Ameritech and Centel areas only. For customers subscribed to AT&T
only. Reach Out Illinois customers and calls to online network
services are excluded. **              ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Ameritech retaliated this past week by starting up their callpack
plans again that they used to have back in the old days but now far
more liberal that they ever were before.  We can switch our lines from
the ABCD zone plan (A calls are five cents or less each untimed, and
BCD calls are timed at about three to five cents per minute) to the
new plan where ten dollars per month gets you a hundred calls per month
untimed, talk as long as you want to anywhere in the LATA. Twenty
dollars gets you 250 calls I think. No exclusions on any type of
call. If you make mostly A calls it is no big deal, but if you do a
lot of BCD zone calling and tend to talk long periods of time it is
a great deal. I left my modem line on zones (since all I make are
A calls to the local dialup for hours and days at a time) and I put
my voice line on the new plan. Each line requires its own plan; no
more getting one plan and spreading it over all your lines as in the

I do not think AT&T is going to do very well in the local market here
if they are going to start it off as they are doing with this current
effort.   PAT]