5 Things to Know About Your AT&T U-Verse Cable Installer

Cable installers are often the butt of many jokes and all too often are looked down on. Customers can be picky, demanding, and outright uninformed about the whole installation process. A customer may have ordered their service a multitude of ways: telephone representatives, door to door, internet, chat rooms, cooperate and retail stores. All of them can give you completely different information depending on who you talk to. The one constant in all of this is your installer.

Here are some things you should know before (and after) you get your service installed, and before you decide to become a cable installer yourself!

1. Technicians Can't Control Appointment Times or Arrivals

Just waiting on the cable guy
Just waiting on the cable guy

Is it true that a cable installer is someone who just simply can't arrive on time? The fact of the matter is, they have zero control over this. Most customers assume that installers have a set list of places to go that they might receive in the morning so they can plan their day accordingly. If they miss an appointment, it's solely their fault, right?

A technician does not get a list. Let's use Clyde as our technician. Dispatchers from a dispatch center, usually in a completely different city or state, monitor the load (how many jobs are in a particular area. Clyde has an iPad with a VPN which lets him access the AT&T employee web-based system. When Clyde dispatches first thing in the morning, he hit's the "Dispatch" button. The screen will then change and give him a Name, Address, and Phone Number. He can then see what the installation is for, the appointment window, and any notes on the account. This is the only job Clyde can see and it's the first time he's seeing it.

Clyde is graded on a few different sets of numbers. Efficiency is one of them. Efficiency is how quickly he can complete a job. From the moment Clyde presses the Dispatch button, his time is ticking away.

Clyde may get a 9:00 am-11:00 am installation. He is forced to dispatch at 8:15am and your home may only be 15 minutes away from him. He is prohibited from just sitting around, so he arrives at 8:30 am to a completely unprepared, sleepy customer who usually takes it out on him.

Clyde works on the west side of town, but the east side is really busy, and the technicians on the east side are getting stuck on jobs that are taking longer than expected. Dispatch has their own rules to follow. As along as they dispatch someone in the appointment window, they're in the clear. When Clyde finishes up his installation with the sleepy customer, he clicks the dispatch button to see where he's being sent next. It's a 1:00pm-4:00pm repair on the east side, 20 minutes from where he currently is. The time is now 3:50 pm. There is no way Clyde can make it in time.

So he arrives at a 1-4 repair at 4:30 because of traffic across town and the customer takes it out on Clyde.

Clyde is not having a good day. Be nice to Clyde.

2. Most Repair Calls Are Unnecessary

The amount of money AT&T spends on sending a technician to a house is no pocket change. There's hourly pay, gas, insurance, liability, overtime, vehicle wear and tear, etc... This doesn't stop them from allowing customers to talk them into sending a technician. Some phone representative who has zero field experience will even tell a customer there is a problem on the line. Lies, most of the time.

Slow internet is one of the main repair calls a technician will get. The majority of the time the technician will arrive in the home, connect their cell phone to your wi-fi, and run a speed test. They don't need to see your computer because most people have computer issues, not internet issues. This doesn't stop customers from pressing the power button on their computer to "prove" how slow the internet is because the computer takes 10 minutes to turn on. Computer performance and internet performance are not the same.

T.V. inputs are another huge repair list. Most T.V.s have multiple inputs, or sources where they get their audio and video from. There's HDMI, Component, Composite, S-Video, PC, Coax, etc... Many times the U-Verse is on HDMI but the customer, or someone in their home, accidentally put it on Composite and now Clyde shows up because the T.V. is black with a "No Input" or "No Signal" message on it. He changes the channel and "fixes" it.

There are literally hundreds of reasons a technician can be called out. If you have any doubts, do some research online, ask an AT&T phone rep to mail you a modem, or call a previous technician, they leave their number for this reason.

3. There's More to the Job Than What You See

Nid on the side of a home with Cactus... don't do this please
Nid on the side of a home with Cactus... don't do this please
Aerial terminal filled with ants
Aerial terminal filled with ants

In the movies, a cable installer is someone who comes into your home, plugs in some wires, and then leaves. It can be much more complicated than that.

Those wires you see them plug in all go somewhere. They originate in a Central Office somewhere in the city. They can be fiber or copper wires. There are literally thousands of individual pairs of wires. They end up at a crossbox near your neighborhood where they stop. That crossbox has a thousand wires that each go to a terminal (by the 10s or dozens at a time) at the top of a telephone pole or underground. Then a wire goes from the terminal to your home.

A technician is responsible for ensuring you get the right wires from the crossbox to your modem. That can mean climbing poles, digging trenches, placing ground rods, etc... They test these copper pairs for relative capacitance, attenuation, Ohms, dB loss, noise margins, etc... it can be technical.

In fact, some of the time the installation technician is unable to fix the issue. In this case, they need to put in their own ticket for an outside technician to fix the issue. This can delay the process but is completely unavoidable as there is no way of knowing before arrival.

Sometimes a technician is called out to repair a service you don't even have. If your phone doesn't work, and somehow it's found out you don't have phone service, it is the technician's job to call customer service and "purchase" phone service for you.

Once a technician is at your home, he must do everything and anything within guidelines to make you happy. So be patient!

4. It's a Good Job

Working as a cable installer may seem like a bottom-dwelling job, but it's actually very lucrative.

  • AT&T pays its installers well above $20/hr.
  • With overtime, some technicians make over $60k/yr.
  • Working Sunday is time and a half by itself. Working a holiday, such as Labor Day, is double time and a half.
  • They offer benefits such as health, dental, vision, a pension, 401k, discounts and more
  • There are company issued trucks, gas cards, iPads, and iPhones.
  • The company will pay you to go to school.
  • AT&T is a union company and all it's technicians (if they choose) are protected under the union contract
  • They will train you from the ground up and no prior technical experience is needed.

AT&T technicians are like brothers and sisters. Many of us gather after work because it's hard to talk about this job to non-techs. I mean, who understands "I pulled an i30 rebuild. All rg59, IW home run, FECs on my F2, pair change, port was 99% capped so port swap, and replaced the BSW, even swapped the tin can nid. All that for a jep. My DE is garbage right now." You can imagine how much we have to bottle up! We get together and have fun with our brothers and sisters to release some of that tension.

5. It Can Be Rough

Storm damage
Storm damage
Snakes find our terminals comfortable
Snakes find our terminals comfortable
Black widows love AT&T boxes and are seen daily
Black widows love AT&T boxes and are seen daily
A rat trap hidden under insulation where the tech crawled on his hands and knees
A rat trap hidden under insulation where the tech crawled on his hands and knees

Being a technician can mean some really rough days. It's physical work. We climb 30-ft telephone poles. We carry around a 28-ft, 50-lb extension ladder, and work in 150°F attics and under homes. We dig holes, lug around 5-lb hammers, drive 8-ft ground rods into the dirt, and freeze or sweat the entire time.

The only time in the schedule that's guaranteed is that we start at 8:00am, but we don't go home until there's no work left in the city. Could be 5pm, could be 11pm. Technicians regularly miss holidays like Christmas, birthdays, baseball games, and family dinners. Everyone works weekends, but thanks to the union, they do get one weekend off a month.

AT&T sets unrealistic work expectations. If a customer is not home when we arrive, AT&T blames us when we can't complete the job. If a customer keeps calling in with issues within 30 days—such as their remote batteries died, their computer has a virus, a tree looks like it could fall on their phone line—it counts against us. Things out of our control determine our bonus and performance, and they could result in discipline. Discipline is something AT&T is very heavy on.

Employees have died on the job. Heat exhaustion, vehicle accidents, electrocution, and in a few rare cases, robbery and murder. Technicians work in the rain and snow because they're not given extra time when the weather is bad.

Last but not least, those customers. Some live in absolutely horrendous homes. I thought the T.V. show Hoarders was made up but let me tell you... it's not. At least once a week I see a home that belongs on that show. The floors are moist, the air is moist, and the smell is... it burns your nose. There are piles of clothes on the floor next to piles of feces. Dust and hair matted an inch thick. It doesn't matter if you're in a poor community or a $3 million home, there's always a hoarder.

Some customers will threaten you; others will follow through.

The things we see are indescribable sometimes. Guns, drugs, poor parenting, angry dogs, snakes, black widows. And all those could just be the first job of the day.

© 2016 Clyde King


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