After a 97-minute phone call with Bellsouth today and about a 43-minute call yesterday, I have decided to come one step closer to being “Off the grid”.
I have been with Bellsouth forever (I mean, there are so many other choices here in the Southeast, right?), but I have also been a customer of their DSL product for about three or four years with few, if any, problems. I was even on their dial-up plan for about three years before that. All in all, I have been pretty satisfied with them, unless I had to call customer support (God help you if you ever have to).
I use Outlook 2007 as my e-mail client at home. I’ve used it with Bellsouth for a while and I use it at work and love it. Last night, for the first time, I found I could no longer send e-mails, but could receive just fine. It is also worth nothing that Bellsouth/AT&T have no instructions for Outlook 2007 on their Web site, and their tech support reps' latest instructions are Outlook 2003. I found it comical.
This obviously being a port 25 issue, I naturally called Bellsouth to have them offer me a solution. I’ll sum up their solution in a few words (which took me almost an hour to get):
When the tech couldn’t figure out the problem, they sent me to a “higher level” tech, who would gladly charge me extra money to diagnose the problem. It was their pay tech support.
Thanks, but no thanks. I declined.
It was nearing 8:00 PM and I wanted to play the husband role and spend time with my wife so I ended the call.
Today, I came home early from work to tackle this issue again. After 97 minutes and talking with five, maybe six people (none of whom could understand the issue or seemed to know much about this port 25), here is summation of the support I got.
Outgoing e-mail uses something on the Internet called a “port,” specifically port 25. Since my regular readers don’t claim to be all too technical in this regard, I won’t try and confuse you, but the bottom line is that Bellsouth/AT&T have been dropping their residential customers from using this port to send mail since 2003. My time ran out in late 2008 I guess. Their reasoning was that spammers find it easy to relay spam/junk mail through this port, and since Bellsouth business customers complained about spam (to which I'd say, “welcome to the Internet”), Bellsouth shoved the residential customers in the corner, told them to shut up and stop crying, and catered to the business customers. And as we all know, spammers will never find a new way to send spam e-mail now that port 25 is closed (yeah, right).
So, after hearing these long explanations, I replied quite simply “That’s fine, give me another port to use and I will set up Outlook to use it.” They replied “I’m sorry, there is no other port you can use.” I asked, “Then, what can I do? I want to send e-mail like I have been doing for years, like every Bellsouth customer does.” They replied, “Let me send you over to someone in billing…”
Great. Billing got on the line and explained to me that this can all be solved if I am made into a business customer. I thought, “No big deal. They make me a business customer, and discount my plan so it stays the same.” Then I was reminded that they are Bellsouth, which is about two inches short of being the Federal Government. No discount, no credits, no way.
At best I would be able to get away with only paying 10 dollars more a month to do exactly what I was doing 48 hours ago, for 10 dollars less. Their solution is to make me a business customer and raise my rate.
I begged, I pleaded, I started to sound really pitiful. I had been on the phone over an hour and a half. I needed to walk away with a kill across my shoulders, something to pridefully show my wife and child that the man of the house was providing for the family. I got nothing. I asked for higher-ups, and they told me the same thing.
They are just randomly pulling port 25 send-abilities from Bellsouth residential customers, and solving their complaints by making them pay more. Well not me. I am slowly informing all my contacts to e-mail me at my Gmail address, contacting my cable company to set me up with cable Internet, and dropping my land-line altogether and living off the cell phone, which is kind of exciting to me. It is one step closer to being off the grid and one step closer to my fantasy of living on a commune and not being found by Big Brother.
So, if you use AT&T or Bellsouth for your Internet access, particularly if you use Outlook for e-mail, I'd suggest dropping them as soon as you can because one day soon, they will drop you and ask you to pay more to get back up.