High Comedy and Poor, Poor Service

No resolution to the iPhone activation saga yet, but lots of frustrating phone calls and one concrete piece of advice that may bring a light to the end of the tunnel.

Forty-two hours after purchasing the iPhone (and 40.5 hours after attempting to activate it), the thing still doesn't work. And soon after the last call yesterday, AT&T disabled my old cell phone SIM card, leaving me with no service at all.

First thing this morning, I checked to see if it was up yet or if any e-mails had come in regarding the status. And, of course, there was no news. I spent some time reading other people's horror stories on the AT&T and Apple message boards, where it appears an indeterminately small but very vocal group of users were suffering a similar fate.

The boards contain lots of rumor, innuendo, suppositions and, of course, threats of legal action. Obviously, people were glomming onto any detail they could, since AT&T would provide little useful information on their own. One particularly interesting thread surmised that people in my situation—trying to migrate from a legacy AT&T Wireless account—would get no satisfaction until Monday, since the group that handles those migrations was off for the weekend.

After this bout of wallowing, I made up my mind that I was not going to let the iPhone ruin an otherwise lovely Sunday. I would let it go until Monday (and my editors would just have to wait for the review). I could live without a cell phone for a day. I think ...

But all day, thoughts about the iPhone and AT&T ate away at my spirit. Finally, around 2 p.m. PDT, I gave up pretending and called AT&T support again. And what a wild goose chase I went on this time.

My first call of the day was to the same number I've been calling all along (877-419-4500), which was the number I was given when I was first notified that I needed to sign up for a more modern voice plan.

I reached a woman named Rose (Tech #3), to whom I explained everything, probably sounding more exasperated than I wanted to let on. She looked up my account, and we discovered that the second call yesterday did indeed net me a more modern plan, but Tech 2 had not added the iPhone data plan.

She fixed that, then had me run through the same steps everyone has guided me through. Again, no activation progress, so she decided to open a trouble ticket. I was slightly incredulous that no one had done it so far, yet I shouldn't have expected otherwise since I did not explicitly ask for one in previous calls.

Rose took my information and said someone would call me back, probably within 24 hours. I was miffed that I was at the end of the trouble ticket queue, but what could I do?

Shockingly, Rose called back (thankfully I have not yet abandoned my land line) within 10 minutes. She had a number for advanced support services that I should call to get the activation done manually. That number, 1-877-800-3701, was the same one that I had seen mentioned on the AT&T message boards as the holy grail number.

Rose connected me to this number. After a 10-minute wait, Tech #4 came on the line. He looked up my account and announced the problem: "It says here that you have an incompatible rate plan. You have to call this other number to get that taken care of."

OK, this is the point where composure decided to take leave of me. I started babbling at Tech 4 about all the steps I had taken to address that problem already, although in a more aggressive fashion than I'm letting on here.

Tech 4 asked what number I called to make the change. I gave him phone No. 1 from above, and he said he had a different number. "After people call this number, we don't hear from them again," he said. As in, "They will take care of it, absolutely."

This magic, super-secret number—so secret that it requires an 11th number to get to the promised land—was 1-800-694-74663. Yes, you need that 11th number, Tech 4 told me.

It took me to Apple support. Apple support doesn't have anything to do with voice rate plans. I know this. That's why I never bothered to call Apple in the first place. Apple's tech, Carol (or Tech #5), sounded apologetic and offered to give me the number to call to adjust my plan. It was the original number I had been calling all along.

Yes, Tech 4, no one calls you back because your advice is terrible.

Tired at this point, I told Tech 5 I had already called that number multiple times. She offered to broker the call on my behalf. Without much alternative, I accepted.

This time, we reached Mariah at AT&T (Tech #6). I gave my usual intro and background and she gave me answers I had heard many times. Very busy, need to be patient, yada yada. And then she had me hold for a very long time.

Eventually, she came back and told me what I needed to do. My next task was to return to the AT&T store from which I bought the unit and get a new SIM card. Apparently, the original SIM card that came with the iPhone was locked in limbo, awaiting some kind of command or action that no one will or knows how to do manually. With a new SIM card, I would have to restart the iTunes activation process, but the new SIM would be free from the old rate plan.

And yes, I had Mariah verify (again!!!!) that the rate plan was set up correctly.

So, it's back to the store for Andrew, with more details sure to follow later.