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The Fiber Optic Game Tweet This   Forward This

9 September 2013

We received an ominous notice from AT&T the other day titled "Important Changes Are Coming to your AT&T Internet Service." Our street address was listed right under it. They know where we live.

The notice explained that "to provide a better internet experience, we're proactively transitioning some customers who live your area to the advanced AT&T U-verse® network with fiber-optic technology." Yep, registered trademark and all.

Apart from the notice's capitalization errors, we got a funny feeling about this. These people may not be just a little careless, they could be dangerous. And they know where we live.

A few bold words later, the note warned, "within the next 45 days, we'll be moving your Internet service to the AT&Y U-verse network."

There's only one little problem with that. It would be illegal.

But wait, there's more -- the part that stuck in our craw. "The change is free and you can keep your current speeds at a price that meets -- or beats -- your current price. However, you'll need new equipment for your service to work. The equipment will be provided FREE of charge so please contact us at our special transitioning number," etc.

The gist of this was that our lines were being upgraded and our equipment wouldn't work on the upgraded lines. We wondered if that was true. Or if we were just being tricked into making a call to an AT&T salesperson.


We consulted our panel of experts.

First on the list was a buddy who actually works for AT&T installing fiber optic. He got back to us right away:

From what I understand, yes you can keep your analog phone line forever, but they may try to switch you to U-verse Internet in the distant future. They cannot switch you without your permission. Plus it would require an equipment change so they cannot just leave you out of service. Should be no worries.

We mentioned we were going to post his notice on our telephone pole and he added:

I don't think they are running fiber to your house, but to a neighborhood service box nearby for U-verse. You can file a Public Utilities Commission complaint if they insist you change. I have not heard about running fiber to individual houses, it would be very expensive.

Next on our list was our Internet Service Provider, which is not AT&T. That's why any AT&T-initiated switch to U-verse would have been illegal. We have a landline account with them for our DSL service but they aren't our ISP.

We asked our ISP support guys via email if our current equipment would be compatible with the new infrastructure. They responded almost as quickly:

This message should only apply to AT&T DSL customers. Standard AT&T DSL modems will not work with AT&T U-verse service. This is basically informing standard AT&T DSL customers that U-verse is coming to your neighborhood and they are forcibly switching them to that as they do not want to continue providing standard DSL.

You should be fine, but if it ever comes up, insist that you want to keep your analog phone line and that you are a DSL customer. You may want to give them a call just to be sure they don't switch you to the digital U-verse phone while you're gone for the day.

This is why these guys are our ISP. They're local. They answer our questions intelligently (even the sales people seem like IT staff). We spent just a few minutes getting things straightened out on the rare occasion something breaks (even if they didn't break it). And we always learn something.

It's how customer support is supposed to work.


Finally, we know a guy who happens to have the U-verse service, although he switches services every six months or so to get the lowest rate. At the moment it's U-verse.

He was complaining about it, though. At 2 a.m. every morning, his AT&T U-verse router was beeping at him, waking the whole house.

He's spent hours on the phone trying to get someone to diagnose and resolve the difficulty but U-verse support couldn't find anything in their scripts that would resolve the problem. "Try another electrical outlet," was as helpful as they got. But the outlet itself was fine and nothing else could reach his equipment anyway.

They did finally diagnose it as a failing battery. Which, you would think, would be under warranty since it isn't six months old. But no, he had to replace the $40 battery himself. He was transferred to a Belkin support specialist to discuss that for a few hours.

Why did he need a battery in his router?

Our AT&T guy explained it to us. When you switch from your analog landline with its own power supply to the digital network, you need a guaranteed power source so you can make emergency phone calls when your power goes out.

Our ISP has a fiber optic program (that isn't in our neck of the asphalt yet) but it's a bit different from U-verse. They call it Fusion. And you get to keep your analog line.

Turned out that the new battery didn't help. But our friend had just driven across country from North Carolina after his daughter finished grad school with her AT&T modem because AT&T refused to take it back. You own it, they told him.

And guess what? It works with everything and doesn't beep at 2 a.m. Yet.


We took our ISP's advice this morning and gave AT&T a ring at the number on the letter.

A personable Jennifer answered, gave her full name, and asked what number we had been calling (to identify the offer) and what our phone number was (to identify us). Then she explained the deal.

AT&T is upgrading the service in our neighborhood and we'll need to replace our DSL modem to use it.

"Is that true even if AT&T is not our ISP?" we asked.

That took her back a bit. "No. In that case you shouldn't have gotten the letter. It only applies to customers with DSL service."

We do have DSL on our landline but AT&T isn't the ISP, so the problem of incompatible equipment doesn't apply to us. But maybe we'd like to take advantage of U-verse higher speeds?

No, we said, we want an analog landline for emergencies here in earthquake country. "Oh, you can keep that," she said, contradicting what we'd been told. But it made sense. If you can do that with Fusion, why couldn't you do it with U-verse? It's just that AT&T would rather you not.

Jennifer also confirmed that AT&T was laying fiber optic lines only to the neighborhood service box and it would be copper to the house from there. The copper can apparently handle the higher speeds at the shorter distance.

So we won't have to do anything to maintain our service, which should suffer no disruption as the lines were upgraded. You heard it first here.


We did derive a large benefit from all this research. We discovered the current charge for our level of DSL service had been reduced. When we brought that to the attention of our ISP's sales department, they lowered our monthly charges quite a bit.

That's what we call an important change to our Internet service.

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