Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Prodigal Nightmare

  I got my first email address when I moved to Iowa in 1994. Even though it was only 22 years ago let me give you an idea about how different the world was. A phone call from Marshalltown, Iowa to 60 miles away Des Moines, Iowa was classified as a local toll call and cost 10 cents a minute. My wife calling her mother 120 miles away in Sumner, Iowa was classified as a long distance toll call and cost the same 20 cents a minute that I was charged to call my parents in New Jersey.

  The only way to access the internet was to dial into an internet service provider and the only way I could afford to sign up with an internet service provider was to find one with a local Marshalltown phone number so I wouldn’t be charged for each minute I was on the web. There as one and only one such service – Prodigy. I signed up for a prodigy account and received my first email address ( which I have kept from then to now.

  Over the years Prodigy was bought and sold a number of times. I’ve had my credit card billed by Prodigy, SBC Communications, SBC Yahoo, and finally AT&T Internet Services. During that time I’ve also had credit cards renewed or changed and managed to update my billing information either online or with a phone call. I don’t need to pay for a prodigy email account and haven’t needed to for many years but it has always been more of a hassle to change my email information for so many contacts and so many companies that it has always just been easier to keep paying for the service.

  I’d been paying for my prodigy email account with a State Farm credit card for the last few years when I got a new State Farm credit card in the mail with one of those EMV chips designed to prevent fraud until the technology gets hacked, causing new and improved security measures to be invented and implemented. The new card had the same number but a new expiration date so I had to once again change my billing information in order to keep my prodigy email service.

Clicking on the billing information link seemed easy enough...

...but entering the password proved to be an insurmountable challenge!

  The Sunday after I got my new card I went to my yahoo mail page and clicked on my ‘My Account’ link which brought me to the AT&T Yahoo account page where I clicked the ‘View Internet Billing Information’ page. I was brought to a page with my email address filled in and asked to enter my password. I entered my password and was told my password didn’t match the password in the database. After several failed efforts I clicked the ‘Forgot Password’ link and changed my password.

  Having changed my password, I entered it again on the AT&T page and was told that my password didn’t match the password in the database. At this point I gave up on trying to change my credit card information myself and clicked the support link which brought me to a page that said ‘The article you're looking for doesn't live here anymore.’ but that I could get help at their ‘Support Center’ link.

Unfortunately the support page had gone missing!

  I clicked the support center link which gave me a new page listing the AT&T products and asking me what I wanted help with. I clicked the ‘dial-up’ section and was brought to another page asking me for my account number. That was all good except I never had an account number. I’ve always identified myself with my email address or my credit card number. The account number field was numbers only so I couldn’t enter my email address. I tried to enter my credit card number but that wasn’t accepted either. At this point I found another link that pointed me to a 24/7 technical support hotline.

  I called the AT&T technical support hotline and was connected to an autobot that told me it could understand sentences and asked what I wanted help with. I said ‘change billing information’ and was asked to say or press my account number. I told the autobot my email address and was asked to say or press my account number. I asked to speak with a person. The autobot kept asking me questions about my account and after I finally got the idea to tell it I didn’t have an account was connected to a technical support department.

  The person on the support department line asked ‘How could they make my day better?’ and I explained that I just needed to change my billing information because my credit card information had changed. The support person asked me for my account number and I explained that I didn’t have one and that I had had my ‘’ email address that I was paying for every month using my credit card that was going to expire. The technical support person said that they had never head of a ‘prodigy’ email address and said they were going to put me on hold while they found someone who could ‘make my day better’. After 10 minutes I heard the friendly voice of the autobot telling me it could understand sentences and asking what I wanted help with. I hung up having lost a half hour I’ll never get back.

  On Monday I called the same support number from work and after dealing with the autobot for another 10 minutes got connected with the billing department (which was closed on the weekends). After another five minutes of explaining that I had no account number and that I had a prodigy email account through AT&T I was put on hold for another 10 minutes and connected to Pamela from the dial-up network division.

  Pamela was very nice and explained that the dial-up network division was so old that when AT&T last upgraded their website they did not include the older technologies like prodigy email and dial-up accounts. She told me that she would be happy to help me and gave me a direct number to call in case we got disconnected. She asked for my new credit card number and as I was giving it to her said she couldn’t hear me and that there must be something wrong with my phone. I knew Pamela couldn’t hear me but just in case I mentioned that of course it had to be my phone since AT&T had been so competent up to this point and are in the telephone business how could there be anything wrong with their phone system? Unfortunately my sarcasm was wasted as Pamela couldn’t hear me and I ended up hanging up.

  After lunch, I called the phone number Pamela gave me but got the same autobot and after 10 minutes of answering questions about not having an account number I got connected to the billing department once again. I asked for the dial-up network division directly and was quickly connected with Barb. Barb was very nice and apologized for my previous problems and also apologized because the dial-up network billing system was down and she wouldn’t be able to enter my new billing information online. What Barb did offer to do was take my credit card information and enter it once the system was back up. I asked if Barb would email me once this was done and she said sure.

  Feeling I had finally gotten my billing information upgraded I happily hung up the phone and waited for the email. I waited one day. Then I waited another day. I didn’t notice any abnormal activity on my credit card so on Thursday I called the AT&T phone number, mentally wrestled with the autobot, and 10 minutes later was talking to Tammy from the dial-up network division. I explained my problem and Tammy told me the system was back up and running and she would be able to enter my new billing information online at that moment. I gave Tammy the information and it was entered in no time. Tammy even gave me the network dial-up division’s direct number.

  The next day my credit card showed a charge for a few cents from AT&T Internet Services so I knew that after at least 3 hours on the phone my credit card information was updated and my ancient email account was safe for at least a few more years. I wanted to thank Tammy for being able to accomplish what the other AT&T service reps failed to do so I called the network dial-up division’s direct number to thank her. I got the autobot telling me it could understand sentences and asking what I wanted help with.