Go To SXSW With An iPhone? AT&T Wants To Buy You a Free Month

Messages (-1) I got off the phone with AT&T yesterday, registering a complaint on the really atrocious coverage they had in Austin during SXSW.

They denied having any outages in Austin during this time.

Which is a total joke.  There was a NYTimes piece on the network being down: ‘Call Failed’ Feature Revealed at SXSW Gathering.  And a Wired piece too.

I couldn’t make or receive a call for a week down there.  Txt messages would sometimes take four hours to go from one iPhone to another.  The data network would work perhaps once a day.

iPhone SXSW Fail PhotosBut they don’t have any recorded outages in Austin.

So they finally want to say ‘sorry!’ with a free month of service.  Well they don’t really, but they should.

Here is how to do it:
Call customer support 1-800-331-0500

  • Press 1 if you are calling from your iPhone
  • Press 0 to get to an operator

Write down your point.  “The phone service was unacceptable during my recent trip to Austin.  Txt messages took …”  Talk to your outstanding customer service rep.  Be nice, they didn’t do this to you.

They will offer you to comp the time you were down there, at a prorated rate, and without data.  For me this was $27.

Nicely explain that that is unacceptable.  Read your point over to them.  Ask for a months service credited.  If they can take care of it, great, if not, ask for someone that can help out, perhaps the floor manager.

Hey, your now on the phone with the floor manager.  They will try to play some mighty games with you, like start off the conversation by making a binding offer, like this:iPhone SXSW Fail Photos

Great, I would like to personally apologize for the problems you had and credit your account $27.

Read your point.  Their offer is unacceptable.  We pay a premium for working service.  Read your point again.

Cool, they up the offer.  Careful though, this doesn’t include your txting plan or data.

Keep asking.  It took me about five minutes.  Be nice, but firm.

My whole month was comped.  As should everyone that attended SXSW.

This is 2009.  We should have figured out how to get cellphones working for 4000 geeks.

**UPDATE** The tweet about this post has been retweeted 78 times, and by all the email and comments, I am estimating that $10,000 has been refunded.

**UPDATE #2**  Over 500 retweets of this post, about $100,000 in refunds is my guess.






43 responses to “Go To SXSW With An iPhone? AT&T Wants To Buy You a Free Month”

  1. Adam Pieniazek Avatar

    Here in Boston, my AT&T reception is pretty awful all the time. Just an hour or two ago I called my buddy (also on an iPhone) 2-3 times, went straight to voicemail, but then got a text from him so clearly his phone was not off. Called him from my landline, no voicemail actually connected the call.

    Sometimes I'll also call my own iPhone from my Skype/landline and it won't go through. I've actually called them out on this before but am going to use this post as proof that they have issues with their service.

    Let's see if I can beat your one month credit!

  2. Tom Martin Avatar

    I had the same issue during Mardi Gras. Couldn't tweet an entire parade until AFTER I left the route..but ATT said, no outages in NOLA at that time… right… Glad to see they at least did something for you. If they really wanted to knock it out of the park, they'd proactively comp all the SXSW folks. Should be easy enough based on GPS data from the phones.

  3. mager Avatar

    Good post

  4. wreckandsalvage Avatar

    They should have just hired a handful of geeks from the convention to set up a temp tower.

    I have a Bold, just did this except in opposite order. Asked for txt and data first, then voice. Took about 5min total.

  5. Nick Avatar

    Do you understand how cellular communications works? If you do than you have unreasonable expectation. Do you think they are going to build their cell infrastructure around a single week? I live in Austin and have an iPhone. The service here 51 weeks a year is far better than what I have experience on a normal day in the bay area.

    I was frustrated by the network over SXSW. However, It was an improvement over last year. ATT is not to blame for this. Apple is for making such an interesting product.

  6. robert Avatar

    If you were here, I'd give you a hug right now. I just called and got almost $140 credit for my account! I didn't even have to escalate it. They must have sent a memo around.

    As frustrating as the lack of service was, their customer service response was fantastic, and it makes me like them a little more.

  7. John Fischer Avatar

    I just followed Andrew's instructions to the tee and even stole his script and got my entire bill comped for the month.
    Thanks Andrew, can I buy you a sandwich?

  8. darkseraph Avatar

    Bravo! Awesome post Andrew

  9. Jay Cuthrell Avatar

    I'm trying to get AT&T to acknowledge the problem and speak with an Austin market manager or member of the management team.

    Austin, TX apparently had no issues according to the call center I spoke to after giving them the Austin, TX zip code for the ACC (78701).

    Oh wait…

    Upon further review after I insisted that AT&T did have a problem that was covered by news outlets from print to TV to online the following nugget came across the line:

    “I see that several of our towers were offline and one is still offline but we are quickly adding more capacity to those areas”.

    That was neat how the dialog changed when I disagreed.

    Basically, I called in and was routed to the Fayetteville, NC call center and after 5 minutes with the first rep offering prorate only (insistent too!) I was bumped to floor manager and for the next 20 minutes I was told that prorate only was an offer that AT&T did not have to make at all since it was a “radio device”. Clever tactic? No. I reached an impasse and the floor manager would not budge.

    Net result: I think they are crediting my account the prorate in hopes I don't follow up

    In fact, I've requested escalation to a regional manager, asked my account and ticket to be flagged for investigation, and requested that my account be noted that I considered prorate unacceptable during my call in the event that AT&T credits my account for the offered amount (just in case the manager pulls the account and sees the problem as “solved”). I have the name and direct number of the floor manager and will return a call if not contacted by Monday at 5pm Eastern.

    BTW, just as a data point… I never had issues at any conference or larger events when I was with Verizon and my trusty BlackBerry.

    Funny that. A “radio device” that works?

  10. pegorama Avatar

    any ideas on if this would work for Blackberries?

  11. Rob Avatar

    It's also Apple fault they create a phone that effectively launches DDoS attacks on cell towers unless you upgrade the firmware.

  12. heather Avatar

    Be really persistent (and kind) if they only want to credit you for the week. Eventually the month was credited, for both my wife and myself who were at SXSWi with basically no coverage.

    The person I spoke with also said she'd order a network-wide ticket on the issue.

    Many thanks Andrew. Well done.

  13. Kyle M. Avatar

    Had to escalate to floor manager, and he gave me full data credit and half voice, after some negotiation. Didn't have time to argue further, so I let it ride.

    In any case, thanks, Andrew. And nice to meet you last week. I think you were there when I was tracking down AT&T reps' cell phone #s, right?

  14. Chris Bucchere Avatar

    Good tip, bro!

    I spent 53 minutes and 38 seconds on the phone and talked to five different people, but I eventually got a full one month adjustment to my bill (which is more than $150). I basically stuck to the script, with a few minor changes. First they offered $30 off, then, after getting the floor manager on the phone, $59. When I felt I wasn't getting anywhere, I told them I was going to buy a Blackberry and switch to Verizon. I then got transferred to the “oh-shit-please-don't-quit” department, where they offered me a $50 refund to keep me as a customer. I asked for that person's manager and he finally caved in and offered the full month. I had to promise to keep the service for at least 90 more days or else the “adjustment” would be added back to my bill. (I was happy to agree to that.)

    They threw two curve balls at me during the process:

    1) “We have no reports of service issues in Austin last week. You should have called us while you were having problems so we could have done some troubleshooting.” I countered by saying that I'm sure they got some calls from other people with similar problems and by reading passages from the Wired and New York Times articles, which you can find here and here:


    2) “You don't deserve a full month's credit because the service only failed for ten days.” To argue this point, I gave several examples of how these ten days were when my phone service was most “mission critical” to me. I gave examples of missed meetings, SMS messages asking if I wanted to have lunch coming in at dinner time, etc. Basically the onus was upon me to prove that the pain and suffering I endured during SXSW, even though it only lasted ten (or five, for SXSWi-ers) days, was worth an entire month's service.

    I think the straw that broke the camel's back was when I asked, “What's worth more to you and your company: one month's service or a lost customer?”

    Thanks again for the tip — I'll buy you a beer next time I run into you a conference. Given that we've had that happen twice already this year (BIL and SXSW), I'm sure it won't be long before we meet again. . . .

  15. andrewhyde Avatar

    That would be delicious! Glad it worked out!

  16. andrewhyde Avatar

    I did run into a PC magazine editor at SXSW who had a drunk AT&T rep on the phone, who would not comment on the issue publicly.

    Looks like everyone is getting their money back by calling.

  17. andrewhyde Avatar

    On AT&T? I assume so (if you had as bad of service).

  18. andrewhyde Avatar

    Thank you!

    The kind part is key.

    I hope they open a network wide ticket. Honesty is all we are asking for here.

  19. andrewhyde Avatar

    Hey, great to meet you too! I wish you were able to get an 'on the record' report from the reps!

    I will be emailing in a few.

  20. andrewhyde Avatar

    Great to hear it worked! Thanks for the detailed report.

    See you at another conference!

  21. andrewhyde Avatar

    I'll take a cross country man hug.

    $140!? You win!

  22. andrewhyde Avatar


  23. andrewhyde Avatar

    Interesting, wonder if that matters, the order, or you just got a really good rep.

  24. andrewhyde Avatar

    That would be a class act thing to do, but it is cash out of hand, and I don't expect it.

    Oh well.

  25. andrewhyde Avatar

    I generally have a bad time with Boston. Too bad, shouldn't be that hard. How did it go?

  26. andrewhyde Avatar


  27. pegorama Avatar

    AT&T, yes. Text messages didn't land in a very timely manner, and in some cases, not at all.

  28. Suzanne Avatar

    Andrew – thanks for the heads up. I called ATT and got a month comped to my account without much trouble.. over $100!

  29. ekai Avatar

    Also worked for me, though had to escalate to floor manager after a few round and rounds with the rep. When the floor manager was too busy to take my call (answering everyone else who read this blog), the original rep gave me the full month. Took about 10 minutes. Thanks!!

  30. timrosenblatt Avatar

    They took care of me with no problem. Didn't even have to ask for a supervisor. I wonder if they've gotten enough complaints to tell their service reps to just issue month credits.

  31. Kyle M. Avatar

    me too…thanks for the shout out above though.

  32. Jay Cuthrell Avatar

    I outlined my general concerns with the overall AT&T handling here:


    My update is that I am still seeking contact from a regional manager. I've also called into the Lebanon, VA support desk. As they are doing inbound routing based on (NPA)NXX-XXXX for the call, I might have to make a VoIP call -from- the West Coast or someone closer to the centers that handle Austin. This is a known quirk of call centers. You get handed out based on region, time of day, and other metrics like call volume. The floor manager was understanding and will do what he can. We shall see but I shall follow up as well.

    I also will note that AT&T customer service has offered a full month credit within the first three minutes of the call. While I appreciate this progress, my goal is two parts still and I requested this be noted in the ticket (agin). A credit issued might be more of a function of the particular rep involved vs. the big board list of problems, issues, or keywords such as “this is my second call”, etc. vs. AT&T fully comprehending the issue and correlating it fully.

    As of today I still have not heard from a regional manager but I will be seeking them out and continue to provide updates here or on Twitter with URLs back to the outcomes as comments.

  33. omahajoe Avatar

    My AT&T coverage has sucked ever since I got my iPhone in Omaha, NE. Will they credit me the last 2 years?

  34. Matt Matteson Avatar

    Bah. I hate the phone, but I figured this would be a good exercise. I picked up the phone with a goal of $30, and after talking with one person for a total time of 14 minutes I received the prorated credit of $31. *Shrug* Maybe my phone skills improved, and in my mind AT&T picked up my one of my nicer meals at SXSW.

  35. diligent Avatar

    First I was told that the coverage was fine and that Credit would not be issued because “AT&T doesn't guarantee coverage.” apparently it states this in the contract I signed. I wanted to respond “In that case i don't guarantee payment” but I kept my cool and asked for the floor manager.

    The floor manager comes on and tells me 2x that she didn't show any usage on my account in “Dallas” recently. I corrected her with “Austin” 2x. This was very laughable that in essence I needed to prove that I was in Austin which upset me because she insinuates that she has that information in front of her thus she's essentially calling me a liar. I usually blow a gasket when i'm accused of being a liar but i was able to calmly state that i contacted my buddy as soon as I got to Austin so I could meet up with him at his job and I sent many many txt msgs… thus whatever you're looking at is incorrect.

    I guess she bought that statement because she immediately asked me how long I was there for.to which I responded Tuesday – Sunday the 22nd. She then insistent on only prorating my account 7+ dollars for txt/data for the '5' days I guess voice wasn't included because I don't use voice much thus I didn't experience problems… thus it must have been working properly? Also I didn't catch it at the time but Tuesday-Sunday is 6 days in my book.
    I explained that the lack of a working was frustrating and made it extremely difficult. for me to be productive; and that i expected the same treatment others had received in terms of a full credit. After i felt that she wasn't budging I attempted to escalate the matter again to which she replied that she was the highest person available to which I replied, “so your the highest person at AT&T?” she responded “NO” and I then asked her to have someone higher call me on Monday. After prodding for at least a good minute she reluctantly gave me a 4 hour window in which I could expect a call. I'm pretty certain Monday is going to come and go w/o receiving a call.

    Another note… each time I escalated the rep insists the next person “is going to tell you the same thing I'm telling you”. To me this is and intimidating and juvenile tactic.

  36. GeekMommy Avatar

    I know I should do this… I just don't have the energy to play “up the ante” with a call center… wanna come do it for me? 🙂

  37. Jimmy Avatar

    Took 2 calls, 5 service reps and about 60 minutes but they finally offered me a month credit. Be firm but be nice!

  38. diligent Avatar

    Finally got the month's credit. May have been semantics as I was told that “since you subscribe to a monthly service, and there was an interruption in that service, you will be credited back for the month.” This was the result after declining pro-rated account credits. Thanks much Andrew

  39. Deb on the Rock Avatar

    thanks for your encouragement to advocate–and for all of you who didn't slack and paved the way for me. They were very apologetic and fair. Almost makes me want to believe in ATT again.

  40. Tonia Avatar

    I read your article and all the encouraging comments, but still dreaded the call-center resistance I was sure to get from AT&T. However, I'm pleased to say that I did call and held my ground in against the prorated offer, and hung up with over a $100 credit. I did have to escalate to a manager, but he was very friendly despite repeated attempts to persuade me to take their initial (lower) amount. Thanks to you, Andrew, for being a savvy consumer and sharing your experience with us internerds.

  41. andrewhyde Avatar

    Glad it worked out!

  42. Tonia Avatar

    I read your article and all the encouraging comments, but still dreaded the call-center resistance I was sure to get from AT&T. However, I'm pleased to say that I did call and held my ground in against the prorated offer, and hung up with over a $100 credit. I did have to escalate to a manager, but he was very friendly despite repeated attempts to persuade me to take their initial (lower) amount. Thanks to you, Andrew, for being a savvy consumer and sharing your experience with us internerds.

  43. andrewhyde Avatar

    Glad it worked out!

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