Open Letter to AT&T from an AT&T Stockholder

July 2021

On Friday 9 July 2021, my client and i lost 4+ hours of our lives attempting to deal with what should have been a non-issue: setting up 2 legacy SBC Global (.net) email accounts on a new macOS installation (macOS Catalina 10.15: newest for the older Macintosh hardware involved). This is the sad story of a once-great (maybe?) company’s decline into raging, flaming incompetence.


Before my appointment to finish setting up the client’s Macintosh computer, i reviewed email setup information related to the client’s email accounts. I am very familiar with setting up email accounts in Apple Mail for Macintosh—the goal here. However knowing the convoluted, checkered, often-changing business alliances with AT&T and Yahoo! and changes with the former Baby Bells being reintegrated into AT&T, i felt it prudent to verify the correct settings beforehand.

At this time, i found the article Set up or update AT&T email - Apple Mail (OS X). That article states, and i quote:

Get a secure mail key

A security upgrade is coming to AT&T email. If you use Apple Mail or Mac Mail with macOS 10.10/Yosemite or older, you’ll have to update your email settings. Learn more about the security upgrade.

If your OS is affected, be sure to create a secure mail key to set up or update your email. If your Mac runs on OS 10.11/El Capitan or above, you won’t need one.

Appointment: AT&T Fucks Up Royally

The problem started with a lack of login credentials. It is the fault of the client that she did not retain her login credentials in a usable form. It is AT&T’s fault that the password recovery procedure and user ID recovery procedure were wholly unworkable: my client and i made no progress whatsoever in over an hour of trying to get through. It wasn’t until Jeremy in AT&T customer service did a manual override temporary reset of the password that any progress could be made.

Progress again quickly halted: even after a password reset, the end goal of getting the email accounts working in macOS and specifically Apple Mail continued to fail. Note that last sentence in the support article above: “If your Mac runs on OS 10.11/El Capitan or above, you won’t need one” where “one” is a secure mail key. This is macOS 10.15 Catalina, so reasonably enough, based upon the information in the article on AT&T’s website, i concluded that no secure mail key was needed. At least an hour was lost repeatedly trying to enter the password and having it rejected.

Finally we got to the point where CS rep Jeremy explained that we did need a secure email key—in direct opposition to the posted support article. OK, fine: he walked us through that process, same as in the online support article Create a secure mail key. Everything was good until Step 7: Select Create secure mail key: Website fails with an error. No key is generated, or at least not displayed. Error had a code something like [201][100] or maybe [100][201]. I left that piece of paper with the client, especially given that she’s wisely leaving AT&T.

Here is where we lost the remainder of the hours: key generation never did work, even when escalated to what was described as an IT representative who called us back. Over and over and over:

That was all with Jeremy. About 3+ hours into this mess, once escalated to the IT rep:

That’s when i stopped the madness: 4 hours in, and email could’t be set up. IT rep suggested a technician come out. What exactly is an AT&T technician going to do that someone who used to work at Apple and works with Macs on a daily basis can’t do?! Get the key on a Windows OS or Linux machine?!?! Insane!

Oh, and how about this?: as i’m composing this letter, i’m looking at the OAuth article on the AT&T site. Once again with feeling:

Access AT&T email with an app that uses OAuth

If you’re like most people, you have email apps that let you read and manage email on your computer and mobile devices. For your security, we suggest you only use email apps with an email technology known as Open Authentication or OAuth. OAuth encrypts your username and password to protect your info from hackers and fraudsters.

Device & operating system (OS) Apps and programs that use OAuth
Mac computer running OS 10.11/El Capitan or above Apple Mail

That’s what we’re using! Why Doesn’t It WORK?!

Oh but wait, there’s more!: as we were going through the hours of flailing, my client’s office manager calls and says that the Internet’s down at the office. Who serves the office? Wait for it… AT&T! To his great credit, it was AT&T CS rep. Jeremy who pointed out the office problem around or before the time the office manager called, and proactively set up an appointment with the client for a tech to come out. Never mind that her office and especially her office colleague’s business are shit out of luck the rest of the day and until the start of the next work week….

AT&T Support: Broken!

Please note that neither my client nor myself blame your CS rep with the charming accent Jeremy, even though he was factually wrong in terms of the version of Apple Mail in question needing the 16-character key authentication rather than OAuth: the system is broken! He did his job: he stayed with us for hours, working patiently with us until absolutely no more progress could be made, at which point he set up the escalation callback with the person described as an IT expert (whose name i did not retain, as i was so steaming angry by this point). The IT expert was also patient, but also unable to get us where we needed to be.

None of this would have had to have happened if your support articles had been Clear and Accurate, and if your account reset procedures worked properly. And then once we were talking to live people, why aren’t your CS reps properly trained and given the resources and access they need to actually help?!

I still to this day do not know whether legacy accounts are supposed to use Apple Mail’s Yahoo! or Other account setup, and if Yahoo!, when there are two addresses, does the order of which is set up first matter (e.g. primary account with a subsidiary address)? At this point, i no longer care: i never used these shitty services, and the client is moving off them.

How To Lose Customers Forever

During the hours of downtime waiting for AT&T CS reps to look things up, the client and i discussed how unacceptable this whole situation was. We’re in the process of moving her off her legacy SBC Global email accounts and eventually off ALL AT&T services. She was already disliking AT&T before my work with her started. This experience very successfully pounded the last dozen nails in the coffin of AT&T as a company with which she’ll deal.

Interesting how this mirrors my own experience, from a different perspective. I’m an AT&T stockholder via inheritance. My step grandfather was a? the? Pacific Telephone company physician for the Los Angeles area, apparently in the 1950s, maybe earlier, and maybe into the early 1960s. I do know that when i was a young child in the mid-1960s just becoming aware of the world around me he was already retired. Hugging him was always icky: he chain-smoked cigars and had the most intense smoker’s cough i’ve ever heard (and yes, that’s what killed him later that same decade). I have the sense that Pacific Telephone may have chosen him at least in part because he was a physician who was all good with tobacco smoking, which some at the time apparently were. This suggests to me that making dicey/stupid decisions may be deeply baked into AT&T company culture. In any case, my AT&T stock originated from him.

I was an AT&T customer from the start of the 1980s through January 2021, for traditional hardwired telephone service. I kept it as long as i did for various reasons, a significant one being the relative unreliability of cellular and VoIP services, the latter related to the unreliability of Internet service from any single ISP (and economic and availability constraints precluding my having redundant ISP services). As a stockholder who votes annually, i was already reading the annual reports and aware from back around 2010 or 2011 that AT&T intended to bury the traditional telephone service that made them the giant they were, claiming that they’d be entirely out of traditional POTS by the start of the next decade. Well that didn’t happen, likely related to regulatory reasons, but as expected they cooked the frog: prices kept going up and up and up. The majority of all those years of service i paid for Unmeasured local service: the price was acceptable, and it was essential during the 1990s dialup modem Internet era. By about the middle 2010s the price was already so outrageous that i switched to Measured local service (long distance had been with other companies since soon after the 1983 AT&T monopoly breakup). Still, the prices kept going up.

A one-two punch of two forthcoming successive, significant price increases announced in November/December 2020 was the push that forced me to make a change. I am now using VoIP, with vastly better sound quality and features at a fraction of the price i paid Pacific Telephone then Pacific Bell then SBC then AT&T. Canceling my overpriced, under-useful AT&T service in January was a delight—other than the company AT&T is using for issuing refunds proved beyond dysfunctional. Despite repeated attempts at verifying the prepaid debit or credit card they issues in lieu of a refund check, i was never able to successfully authenticate the card to their satisfaction. Only after going on a major email rant and mentioning that i was an AT&T stockholder did someone do something useful and issue a refund check. You really need to look into how your refund subcontractor performs in real life, AT&T.

Not even a month after the Great Relief of cold dropping AT&T and enjoying the manifold joys therefrom (and the flusher wallet), what’s this? Someone’s running new fiber on the poles in the neighborhood? (February 2021) As one who’s long wanted Fiber To The Home symmetrical Internet service at a fair price, i was very excited… until i walked the neighborhood and found the trucks. Oh Fuck! AT&T!

If it had been almost anybody else, i’d likely have signed on for service by now. But no, it had to be you, AT&T.

Writing of bone-headed decisions, what’s with sending around the rolling billboard vehicle with the bizarre wind chimes sound around my neighborhood to advertise the new fiber optic roll-out? Whose idea was that?! Who comes up with this stuff?! Yes it did actually kinda sorta work as intended the first time: Me: {What is that weird faint sound?! Sounds like wind chimes, but not really, and certainly not any of ours. Did our neighbors put up some new chimes?} So yes i did seek the source of the sound, my face immediately melting into a deep frown of despair as i realized that someone at AT&T—the company of which i own a small fraction—thought it wise to equip a truck with a pair of side-facing giant LED (it looked like) electronic billboards flashing uninformative proclamations that AT&T was now supplying fiber to the home in the neighborhood (and little if any other information). I understand that paper mailings are costly and wasteful, and almost no one’s going to be OK with a 1930s-style truck with a loud P.A. system doing an amplified town crier announcement thing, but this rig?! That’s a lot of precious metals for the semiconductors throughout the signs, vehicle, and vast electronics related to them, plus all the other materials and resources that make most motor vehicles (even electrics) un-“green”. As i recall this was after lockdown was over, and you think that enough people are going to be home and not running audio/media such that they can hear your Twilight Zone wind chime recording and will be interested enough to get up and go look as i did?! Maybe your market research answered that with a resounding Yes!, in which case i’d like to read that research.

I’m no fan of local cable monopoly Charter Spectrum—i hate them—almost as much as i hate you, AT&T. I could write a personal experience tragedy exposé on them almost as long as this one for you… almost. They’re awful: taking on huge debt buying out other cable companies almost solely for the benefit of those at the very top and forcing the bill onto We The Customers who have little choice other than moving bodily our entire household and life to another service area. But at least we have them, so we don’t have to have AT&T. You know a business sector is in big trouble when a Lifetime membership Libertarian seriously thinks local government should take over both Spectrum’s and your physical lines and provide only the physical connection (and maybe DNS, but not even necessarily that) at a non-discriminatory flat rate low fair price for all its citizens, but when y’all abuse your oligopoly power this severely—for my entire life in AT&T’s case—that’s where we are.

You know you’re in trouble when a stockholder of your company not only refuses to use your services, but goes out of his way to actively help move anyone he cares about off your company’s services/products entirely. Good job, AT&T!

I keep the stock mostly because i like the dividends, and have a twisted sense of humor that enjoys watching once-great (or at least really big) companies implode from both the inside and the outside. With all the vast baggage AT&T carries from the legacy of its long history, size, and unions, i certainly don’t expect the stock price to appreciate in any meaningful way.

Thanks for reading, if you did. I write for many i know when i type: Goodbye, and good riddance!

For multifaceted personal reasons, i sign this with my ’Net name,

))Sonic Purity((