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From: (Roy Smith)
Subject: Re: Why DOES AT&T Behave The Way It Does?
Organization: Public Health Research Institute, New York City
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 90 16:36:38 GMT

In article <> John Higdon <> writes:

> AT&T hasn't yet learned how to best utilize its competitive strengths
> [...] the company hasn't yet learned what to charge for its hardware.

	It would also appear that they havn't yet figured out that
they are dealing with customers other than captive local Bell telcos.
Let me tell you a longish story about AT&T marketing.

	We have a System 25 at work.  We also run Farallon PhoneNet
over spare pairs of the existing phone wiring.  With the old wiring,
2-pair runs terminating in RJ-11's, it was easy.  The new wiring is
4-pairs terminating in 103A's which have a spare pair, but not on the
pins PhoneNet hardware expects (i.e. 1/4 on an RJ-11, 2/5 on a 6-pin,
or 3/6 on an 8-pin jack).  No problem, just get an adaptor, right?

	I walk over the my local AT&T phone store, after stopping in
at the Radio Shack just to see (hey, I have to walk past it on the way
to the AT&T store, and every once in a while they just do surprise you
and have what you need, no matter how far-out what you need is).  Not
surprisingly, the AT&T store doesn't have it on display so I ask the
counter guy (see the current discussion about counter
guys; it all applies here) if he has what I need.  He sort of freaks
out when I mention System 25, but calms down when I assure him that
what I need might also be used on a Merlin system (Merlins seem to be
consumer items, and Sys25s small business items, and never the twain
shall meet).  

He calls over his Merlin expert.  The best he can do is dial a number
on his speaker phone and let me talk to the System 25 tech support
center.  It's a horrible connection (I assume an AT&T store uses AT&T
as their long distance carrier, but who knows?) made worse by the
shitty speakerphone, and I can barely understand the other person.
Eventually we get cut off.  The guy agrees to just give me the 800
number so I can call from my own office (I sort of got the impression
he wasn't really supposed to do that).

	OK, I go back and call AT&T and ask if they have the kind of
adaptor I need.  A lot of waiting on hold, and eventually the nice
lady come back and says she thinks she has what I need, but isn't sure
I can buy it!  We go back and forth a bit making sure it's what I
need, and eventually I just ask for their Premises Distribution System
catalog so I can see for myself what's what.  I'm a bit surprised when
they charge me 3 or 4 bucks for it, but OK, I give them my VISA number
(after semi-jokingly asking if they could just put it on my AT&T
calling card).

It comes.  Sure enough, exactly the adaptor I need is in there, a 400H
T-adapter.  You plug it into a 103A jack and it pulls pins 1-6 out to
1-6 on another 8-position jack (exactly what a Merlinesque set needs)
and pulls 7/8 out to 2/5 on a 6-position jack, exactly what PhoneNet
needs.  I'm a bit suspicious that they list a 12-week delivery time,
it's probably a rare item, perhaps semi-custom.  But I'm in no
particular rush, so that's fine.  Now the scenes from Kafka start.

	I go to call the catalog folks to find out prices (I hate when
there are no prices in catalogs).  But who do I call?  There is not a
single phone number in the catalog, and I looked cover to cover.  Who
ever heard of a catalog without a "call this number to order" section?
So I let my fingers do the walking and just call the local AT&T
business office.  They've never even heard of the catalog I have and
grill me about where I got it from, as if it was something I wasn't
supposed to have.  They have heard of comcodes (which seem to be
AT&T's version of stock numbers) but don't deal with them.

Perhaps if I could give them the names of the items I want?  OK, they
know about the simple stuff like 103A blocks, but havn't heard of the
400H adaptors.  Eventually they give me another 800 number.  They
haven't heard of the catalog either, but do know about comcodes and
give me pricing on most of the items I want, but when I give them the
comcode for the 400H, they say it's an invalid comcode.  The refer me
to the National Parts Center (this sounds promising).  This time, it
at least comes up as a valid comcode, but the part doesn't exist, or
some such.  They refer me to yet another 800 number, for the Main
Business Office, which turns out to be the semi-secret 800 number the
counter guy gave me in the first place.

	OK, back to them.  I explain what I want briefly to whoever
answers the phone, who transfers me to somebody who answers, "Oh
shit!"  Gotta teach these phone types what "open mike" means!  Turns
out to be somebody named Mr. Adams with whom I talk for 5 or 10
minutes about my travails.  He seems very concerned that I don't know
my AT&T account number, and can't do a thing for me until he find my
records, first an unsucessful search on our main phone number (perhaps
they sort by outgoing trunk number, which I don't know offhand?) then
a longer and sucessful search by company name.  He says he needs a bit
of time to work on this, asks for *at least* 24 hours, and assures me
he'll call me back.  He gives me a non-800 (local) number at which I
can reach him directly.

	I call back that afternoon, he's not available.  I call back
the next day, nobody answers at the local number.  The next day, the
same thing, no answer.  I call the 800 number and ask for him by name.
He's busy, but the person offers to take a message.  I ask for a
supervisor.  All the supervisors are in a meeting.  I leave a somewhat
detailed message and ask that a supervisor call me back, which she
does in a few minutes (must have been a short meeting).  Says Mr.
Adams has no recollection of ever having spoken to me, although he
does has a slip of paper on his desk with my name on it.  I get her
name and number, which is the same as Adams's local number.  I explain
that nobody ever answers that number.  She says they were having some
trouble with it, but it's fixed now.  She also has never heard of this
catalog I have, but gives me yet another 800 number to call, AT&T
Catalog Sales.

	These folks have also never heard of my catalog (not only have
all these people never heard of the catalog, but they all seem amazed
that I have it, want to know where I got it from, and can't grok that
it only says "AT&T" on it, with no further identification.  I read
them everthing it says on the (very pretty) cover: "AT&T Premises
Distribution Products Customer Catalog, 1989".  Seems pretty
straight-forward to me.  Anyway, they eventually suggest that I call
Graybar Electronics, and give me an 800 number for them!  OK, I call
that number, which is answered by "What company are you trying to
reach?"  Strangest way to answer a phone I've ever heard, except
possibly for "Oh shit!".  Half expecting to hear John Higdon offering
to make me a hotel reservation, I say, timidly, "Graybar Electric?"
They take my name, address, phone number, etc, and give me the number
for Graybar.  I ask them who I've reached, and all they will say is
it's some kind of referral service.

	OK, I call the (local) number, get Graybar, but they refer me
to Graybar's telecomm division, another local number.  I get to talk
to a very knowledgable person who thinks it perfectly normal that I'm
looking for this kind of stuff, and asks if I have a comcode!  She's
not heard of that particular part, but I offer to fax her the
appropriate pages from the AT&T catalog-from-hell, which she agrees
to.  I do so.  

She calls back a little while later to say she's located everything I
need (they turn out to be an AT&T distributor), apologizes that the
400H will take 14 weeks, but has everything else in stock.  She's even
done some research and found another manufacturer who she thinks has
something similar to a 400H and will track that lead down more if I
like.  She asks if we have an account, and when I say I would imagine
so, since we've bought from them before, but I don't know the account
number, she agrees that our respective business offices can worry
about that later.  In short, what you would expect from a company when
you call them up knowing exactly what you need and just want the

	To top it all off, the prices she has are uniformly lower than
the prices AT&T gave me (interestingly enough, different AT&T places
gave me different prices for the same items).  The biggest difference
was on a box of 1000 ft of 4-pair 24 gauge station wire.  AT&T wanted
$140 a box, Graybar wants $47.83!  Somebody recently mentioned that
AT&T overcharges by 3 times on phone hardware.  Had I not priced this
wire, I would have thought he was joking, but now I know he's serious.

	Really makes you wonder how AT&T stays in business.  Maybe
Judge Green was right after all, lack of competition is bad.

Roy Smith, Public Health Research Institute
455 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016 -OR- {att,philabs,cmcl2,rutgers,hombre}!phri!roy
"My karma ran over my dogma"

From: Dave Levenson <>
Subject: Re: Why DOES AT&T Behave The Way It Does?
Date: 18 Feb 90 14:23:17 GMT
Organization: Westmark, Inc., Warren, NJ, USA

In article <>, (Roy Smith) writes:

> 	It would also appear that they havn't yet figured out that
> they are dealing with customers other than captive local Bell telcos.
> Let me tell you a longish story about AT&T marketing.

What followed was a long but to me, very believable, story about Roy's
attempt to buy a piece of telephone hardware from AT&T.

> ...  No problem, just get an adaptor, right?

> 	Really makes you wonder how AT&T stays in business.  Maybe
> Judge Green was right after all, lack of competition is bad.

I recently had a similar experience trying to buy from AT&T.  This
article probably belongs in another newsgroup, but Roy's story sounds
so similar, I thought I'd relate it here.

I bought a PC and I wanted software for it.  The PC is a '386 and the
software I wanted was UNIX System V/386!  Why did I want to buy it
from AT&T?  I don't know... the folks at Interactive and at SCO keep
sending me advertisements and special offers for their software.
Problem is that I have a significant investment in StarLAN hardware,
so I want AT&T UNIX with the StarGROUP package that supports this

I called the AT&T Data Systems hotline (the number comes with the
manuals that come with their computer systems) to ask about ordering
UNIX.  They can't tell me the price or the comcode, but they can give
me a PEC (price element code).  There are several variations, but the
one we eventually agree on represents the foundation set for 16 users,
packaged with the software development set, on 5.25" diskette media.

National Parts Sales Center can't look it up by PEC and wants comcode
numbers.  They refer me to another number where they translate PEC
numbers into comcode numbers.  The PEC for UNIX turns into five or so
comcodes (one for manuals, one for diskettes, one for another set of
diskettes, etc).  The PEC for StarGROUP turns into another comcode.

Back to National Parts Sales, now armed with comcodes.  They tell me
that the comcode I've requested is not available.  (The number you
have dialed is not in service?)  They want to know where I got if
from.  I tell the NPSC representative how I got the comcodes, and they
tell me I wasn't supposed to get it that way.  They now ask for the
PEC and begin some kind of a database search.

Eventually they tell me they've found what I'm after.  The number is a
new one, the description is "UNIX System V", and the price is $20.  I
tell them I don't think it's what I want, but they have no further
descriptive information available.  (UNIX should cost about $600 or so
without the development set.)

Parts then refers me back to the data systems hotline (which is where
I came in).  A different person there listens to my story and gives me
the UNIX hotline number.  The folks at this hotline turn out to be the
folks who sell a source license to folks who want to port UNIX to a
new hardware platform.  When they discover that I only want to run it
on an already-supported hardware product, they're not interested, but
provide another 800 number.

At this number, they ask for my zip-code.  They provide the names of
three AT&T computer dealers in nearby places.

One dealer's telephone is answered by a machine.  It's been over six
weeks, and he hasn't returned either of my two calls.

A second dealer tells me that they mostly only sell AT&T products to
Bell Labs, but they _think_ they're allowed to sell to the public, if
I know exactly what I want!  I offer them comcodes and PECs and
they'll get back to me.

A third dealer tells me that the guy who knows about UNIX left, and
that they have a special this week on IBM PS/2 equipment...

The second dealer (a retail computer store in a nearby shopping
center) gets back to me, and tells me that they'll order the software
if I give them a deposit.  I dropped by the store, and gave the man a

A week later, they call me to say the order has arrived.  They handed
me a little box.  I told them that UNIX includes several cubic feet of
manuals, and some diskettes.  They point to the PEC, scribbled on the
outside of the box in magic-marker, and tell me that it's what I
ordered.  When I protest, they call their distributor.  He rattles off
a list of the five comcodes I had gotten weeks ago from the hotline I
wasn't supposed to call.  The box turns out to be one of them.  I
refuse the delivery.

Finally, last week, the order arrived.  Eight weeks since the initial

Dave Levenson			Voice: (201 | 908) 647 0900
Westmark, Inc.			Internet:
Warren, NJ, USA			UUCP: {uunet | rutgers | att}!westmark!dave
[The Man in the Mooney]		AT&T Mail: !westmark!dave

Date: Wed, 25 Jul 90 11:48:27 EDT
From: Roy Smith <>
Subject: 400-H Adaptors, the Final Chapter

	A couple of months ago, I really lambasted AT&T for the grief
they were giving me trying to order some 400-H adaptors.  The story
does have a happy ending, and I don't think it would be fair to not
relate that part as well.

	To make a long story short, I eventually got a letter from a
Vice President at AT&T apologizing for the trouble I was having, but
basically saying I still couldn't have the adaptors I wanted, even
though they did exist.  I let the letter sit for a while, and then
picked up the trail again, calling back the Vice President.  His
assistant put me on to somebody else, (RoseMary DeRosa, BCS/MMS
Product Planner, whatever that is).  Over the course of a few weeks,
RoseMary and I spoke a few times about the problem, and this morning,
a box arrived with a letter of apology from RoseMary, and 10
complementary 400-H adaptors.

	So, while on the one hand, I think AT&T still has to get their
act together on a lot of stuff, it is clear that at least some people
there do care about their customers, and are willing to fight internal
red tape to make us happy.  RoseMary seems to be one of those people.
I just wish there were more of them.

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