AT&T’s rollout of its 5G cellular phone service began with a thud on February 22, when it switched off its other services in favor of 5G. Not completely off, mind you, I can still dial 911 on my minimalist flip phone, but effectively off. Not a sunset, but a total eclipse.

I went to an AT&T store on the appointed day to see about getting a replacement phone and upgrade. Not only did they not have any replacement phones, they didn’t appear to know anything much about them. It was suggested that I dial 611 to find out whether a new phone had been shipped to me, as the giant, lumbering behemoth had begun sending phones two weeks prior.

The 611 number I called brought absolutely no help. First, I couldn’t understand the customer service representative, possibly because I was in a shopping center outside the AT&T store. Second, she asked me all sorts of password questions after I had already given my account number, address, etc. Flailing about, I mentioned my mother’s maiden name. Bingo! I was in.

But the rep couldn’t tell me whether a replacement phone had been shipped to me. All she would commit to was that “it would be delivered to my door.”

A few days later, I visited additional AT&T retail outlets, each more clueless than the last. Finally, I ended up at Big Corporate, owned by AT&T, at the swank shopping center in town. I was there more than two hours. Finally, a manager whom I confronted told me that they were having trouble activating the replacement phone because AT&T had accidentally shut off the 5G network to that type of phone. So, I had to purchase a new one. “They don’t keep us in the loop,” he said.

I don’t possess a smartphone, as I am too dumb to use one, and I keep my cell phone mostly turned off unless I am traveling or ordering a sandwich while I am out running errands. I probably have thousands of junk messages on the little phone because I never bothered to learn how to check messages. I certainly don’t text, and only need the phone for backup and emergencies.

And it doesn’t help one bit that the communication around the 5G conversion has been execrable. I learned about it through the media, and never received anything telling me what was happening, when, or how it might affect me.

AT&T spends millions of dollars per year on lobbying. Former Republican operative and political consultant Ed Gillespie is in charge. In fact, my monthly bill includes a “Regulatory Cost Recovery Fee” of $1.18. Multiply that by millions of customers and you have a tidy sum presumably going straight to the bottom line, as lobbying fees are tax deductible.

Yet another subtle way of royally screwing the consumer.


Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Carbon Man (Kindle, 2010).