Is Your U-Verse Down? Here Are U-Options

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Business and residential customers affected by outages such as the one that hit AT&T U-verse broadband users this week may feel helpless, but they do have options, consumer and industry watchdogs say.

Customers who lose Internet service, cable channels or phone service should request consideration in the form of refunds, discounts or add-ons to their service package when service lapses such as this one occur, the experts say.

“Users are entitled to service, and if there is an outage for any extended period of time, they should demand that they get a credit on their bill,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, based in Santa Monica, Calif. “If there’s clearly a cost to the business, AT&T has an obligation to explain itself, and if it’s a prolonged outage, probably reimburse the business.”

Cable franchise arrangements vary by city and state, but many give consumers specific rights, such as a day’s credit on the next month’s bill if an outage lasts for more than four hours, said John Simpson, consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog.

Another option is to ask for a temporary upgrade

“You can say, ‘In return for the inconvenience of this long outage, you need to give me HBO free for the next month.” Simpson said. “There’s no harm in asking for something like that.

Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst, said outages such as the one AT&T customers experienced are not uncommon and that they often happen when a company goes through a software upgrade and its systems shut down. By 3 p.m. Wednesday AT&T (NYSE:T) had not specified the cause of the outages, but a similar AT&T outage in March was blamed on a software problem.

“Whenever you have new technology, sometimes there’s a hiccup and the hiccup has to be fixed, and then we move on,” Kagan said. “I don’t think this is an omen of things to come. It’s just an outage.”

The outage left some customers nationwide without digital TV, Internet and phone services, according to people who turned to Twitter and other online forums to complain. AT&T declined to release how many customers were affected.

A company spokesman released this statement:

“Less than 1 percent of our AT&T U-verse subscribers in a handful of markets across our footprint may be experiencing issues with U-verse services. Technicians are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. We apologize for this inconvenience.”

Some customers who called AT&T for a technician to resolve their problems received an automated callback saying they were part of a larger outage, and that sending a technician would not resolve the issue.

Outages such as the one some U-verse customers endured underline the downside of bundling Internet, TV and phone services, Court said. Bundling may or may not save businesses and residential customers money, but it will increase the chances that they’ll lose multiple services in the case of an outage, he said.

“Bundling is a huge problem, because what happens is companies charge really unreasonable fees for single play — usually just Internet," Court said. "(Companies offer) a better deal if customers get a double play and with a triple play, it’s even better. Consumers really have to pay attention.”

Website, which reports on tech failures, released a map on April 8 showing AT&T outages in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Austin, as well as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and more.

Charles Bassett, AT&T senior public relations manager, told the Dallas Business Journal Tuesday night that 95 percent of service affected by the outage had been fixed by noon central time on April 7, with 100 percent of service expected back by later that afternoon.

But customers continued to barrage the Internet claiming their services still were not fixed Wednesday afternoon. When asked about the continued complaints, Bassett declined to comment further on how many customers were affected, how many are still without U-verse or the cause of the outage.

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