AT&T's business-class service -- or just business-class prices?

Sometimes the only difference between AT&T's business and home service seems to be a higher price

Advances in broadband -- and the increase of home-based offices and telecommuting -- have turned some long-held assumptions about tiered services on their head. Until recently, services aimed at domestic-size budgets and consumer-level skill sets have not been adequate for business needs.

Now, however, small businesses and home office workers can confidently choose between business-class service and home service for fast, reliable connectivity to the Web. The difference between these services often amounts to something difficult to measure, such as "better service" when we opt for more expensive business-class offerings. But how can we know beforehand whether the service will in fact be better? Are we just buying hope?

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Gripe Line reader Ed was faced with exactly this quandary when his ISP announced it was folding and he had to seek service elsewhere. He decided to move to a business AT&T U-Verse line.

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Ed's setup was complicated, and he couldn't afford downtime, so he zeroed in on business-level support. The AT&T sales representative assured him that business plans received a higher level of support. Unable to know what that meant in advance of signing the deal, he took the plunge.

He reports, "A friend had warned me that if my DSL service was not with AT&T, I would have to cancel my current service before AT&T would put in a request for the U-Verse service." That would cause a lengthy service interruption he could not afford, so he checked with his AT&T sales rep to see whether this was the case. "The representative said he would switch me first to AT&T DSL and then to U-Verse." This way, Ed was assured, the service interruption would only be a few hours.

"Also I had a VPN running through a Cisco router to connect to external servers. And I needed static IP addresses," he added. The representative assured him it would all make the transition -- two transitions, really -- fine. Ed gave the whole project a green light.

"The DSL was scheduled to be on by Friday and U-Verse was to be installed by the following Thursday," he explains. Sure enough, DSL went live on Friday morning -- but with no static IP. He got on the phone to see what happened.

"I was told that that 'as it turns out' static IP couldn't be ordered until after DSL service was up and running," he says. Ed spent the morning on the phone hounding the company to make sure this happened.

"By that afternoon," he says, "they were telling me that 'as it turns out' the order-taking computers wouldn't know if the DSL service was up and running until they did a batch update that runs during the night." The next day was Saturday, so this order now couldn't be placed until Monday.

On Monday, Ed was told it wasn't possible to order static IP for his DSL line while a U-Verse order was pending. Ed was now in day four of an outage of important business systems, and he was given a choice: Cancel the U-Verse order, order static IP addresses for his temporary DSL line and start over with a new U-Verse order, or wait until Thursday without static IP addresses when the U-Verse would go live.

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