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Most folks who pay AT&T to provide them with Internet service don’t know that the email part of that service is actually handled by Yahoo. For nigh on 15 years, even though you may have been paying AT&T for Internet service, if your email address ended with att.net, ameritech.net, bellsouth.net, flash.net, nvbell.net, pacbell.net, prodigy.net, sbcglobal.net, snet.net, swbell.net, or wans.net, your email was actually maintained by Yahoo.

I never could understand that weird partnership. AT&T is the world’s biggest telecommunications company, with technological knowhow and roots going back over 130 years to the original Bell Telephone Company founded by Alexander Graham Bell. They know what they are doing, and are not slouches when it comes Internet security.

But, Yahoo? If Internet companies received report cards, Yahoo would get a solid F-. Their safety and security record is abysmal, with countless millions of people being hacked, infected and otherwise abused by Internet bad guys all too happy to use Yahoo’s lackadaisical approach to security as a primary tool in committing their Internet crime sprees. Do a Google search for “Yahoo hacked” and you’ll see what I mean.

This has saddled AT&T with the miserable task of covering for Yahoo’s mistakes, especially regarding their frequently unreliable email service. It’s too bad, though, that, instead of simply admitting a problem exists, accurately describing the problem and working towards a solution, many AT&T tech support employees resort to deception, cover-up and beat-around-the-bush techniques in dealing with customer complaints.

If you’ve ever called any tech support department anywhere, you’ve probably experienced these techniques. They will be the last people on earth to ever admit that anything could ever be wrong with their service. Their default behavior will be to insist that surely the fault must be yours. You clicked the wrong thing, your computer is messed up, your router is broken, you’re not typing your password correctly, blah, blah, blah. Usually, they don’t even bother to check if something’s gone wrong at the temple of technology where they work. Instead, they immediately blame you as the source of the problem.

Such was my experience this week when helping one of my customers. She called me, complaining that, instead of her Microsoft Outlook email program automatically signing her in to her AT&T email, as it had been doing for years, it was displaying a sign-in box, asking her to enter her username and password.

I’ve seen this exact problem many times before, and I told her what was happening. There was nothing wrong with her computer, or anything at her end. The problem was flakey Internet service, and email is part of the Internet, every bit as much as websites. When AT&T (and, Yahoo, in this case) fixed the email part of their Internet service, I explained, her email would start working again.

I gave her a few things to look at and try, but she ended up asking if I could just come over and make things work. Off on a house call, I went.

I went through her computer, Outlook email program and home network with a fine-tooth comb. I checked and re-checked everything that could possibly be causing the problem. In the end, my conclusion was the same: something was wrong with AT&T/Yahoo’s Internet/Email service. Gritting our teeth, dreading what we were about to do, I called AT&T tech support.

After running the irritating gauntlet of pre-packaged questions from the AT&T Robot Man, we were finally connected with a real person. After she asked, “What problem are you having, today?” I said, “I think maybe AT&T is having a problem,” and then delivered my one-sentence question. “Are we having an email outage, in our area?” Sounding a little startled, she said, “An email outage? I’m sure we’re not. What do you mean?” “Are we having an email outage, today?” I asked. “Are your email servers down?”

What followed was one of the reasons people hate calling customer service, anywhere: the big, pointless, time-consuming runaround. Explaining things in more detail, yet still insisting something was wrong with the AT&T email service, I was bounced around from person to person, and department to department for over an hour. I was told numerous times there was nothing wrong with AT&T email, and there must be something wrong with my computer. Yet, I persisted. Finally, my question was elevated to a supervisor/manager type person. At this point, my customer, who had been witnessing all of this via the miracle called Speaker Phone, was hopping mad.

Once again, for about the 20th time, I repeated my questions to the supervisor. “Are we having an email outage in my area? Are the email servers down?” There was a brief silence, after which the supervisor said, “Yes. The email has been down all day. We hope to have it up in 24 hours, or so.” “When you check for these things, is it done by zip code, or geographical area?” I asked. “How do you do that?” “No,” he replied. There was a longer silence. “It’s a global outage. AT&T Yahoo email is down all around the world.”

We sat there, stunned. Silent until now, but becoming more infuriated, my customer yelled, “How come nobody told us that, before? Why did you run us around for an hour before telling us?” The supervisor said he didn’t know, and we discussed the matter for a while. Then, the call ended.

Will things ever improve for AT&T Yahoo email? The question is almost moot, now, as AT&T’s arch-rival Verizon has purchased both Yahoo and AOL, and is rolling both companies into a new one called Oath. After a 15-year partnership, AT&T is severing most of its email ties with Yahoo and farming them out to a company called Synacor. I also learned that, at the same time millions of AT&T Yahoo email customers around the world were having problems, Yahoo was rolling out yet another, new email service that will have both free and paid, ad-free versions. What happens after all that is anyone’s guess.