Tuesday, October 23, 2007

at&t Scores a Penalty Flag

Are the executives at at&t completely unaware of the national video phenomena called "football?" In my house during football season my husband dons his Eagles cap and spends most of Sunday yelling at the TV screen. He doesn’t only watch Eagles games but takes an interest in Ravens, Patriots, Redskins, Packers, Bears and Chargers. He’s not a big Giants fan, but if pressed, he will watch. Sometimes he is joined in this endeavor by our neighbor Dana, who also likes to yell at the set. Although Dana would prefer they watch the games at his house because his TV is bigger and he has FiOS.

If on this past Sunday, we had at&t as our cable provider instead of Comcast, I might be filing divorce papers right now or posting bail money. I know for a fact it wouldn't have been pretty and this may be the only time I will ever thank God for having Comcast.

If you haven’t heard at&t’s U-verse TV went kaput on Sunday for a substantial amount of time in a substantial number of markets. Markets where football is considered somewhat important, like say Kansas City or maybe all of Connecticut. These places were joined by outages in Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit (are you kidding me?), Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Houston. The Houston customers were probably placated with “Calm down, at least your box didn’t explode!”

In the olden days local franchises typically included provisions for how a customer would get reimbursed if their service didn’t work and provisions for how a municipality should be contacted if a percentage of homes in the franchise area lost service for a certain amount of time. The reason for this was two-fold, one was to make sure the customer wasn’t paying for something they didn’t get and the other was to give the franchising authority the heads up that a bunch of angry people were probably going to be calling to complain. I could be wrong but I remember that in most of the statewide franchises no such provisions exist. Who needs “customer service standards” when there’s competition?

But is it competition really when a company is dependent on a technology that can fail an entire nation and not just a single franchise area or neighborhood?

at&t should not have been so darn ambitious. There have been some kinks in the software to work out, some enhancements to be made. I think it would have been better not to try to conquer the United States straight out the gate; this is a big country after all. Maybe they should have started with something more doable and less formidable like Tuvalu or Lichtenstein. Vatican City is the smallest country in the entire world with only 700 residents and on Sunday I could bet most of them weren’t watching football. They should have started there, especially since there’s a real possibility for absolution when you fail.

The good news is at&t provides a “U-talk” web site and they were able to provide their customers instruction on re-booting their set top boxes at certain pre-arranged times. I guess that was so not everybody was “re-booting” all at once and overloading the system and causing it to crash again. My favorite was Oklahoma City and its time being 7:15. Anything earlier would not work, not 7:14 or 7:13 or 7:12, just 7:15.

I feel kind of bad about all of this but then again at&t is using a Microsoft product and you know how you need to pay attention to their upgrades and patches. Anybody who’s ever used a computer should have that figured out.

We’ll have to wait and see how it all works out next Sunday. There’s a Washington v. New England game on at 4:15, so if they hurry, the Connecticut folks have just about enough time to call up DIRECT TV and order a dish.

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