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Taking on the phone company

December 26, 2012 - Call it another example of the power of the media. Or a case of one longtime local business helping another.

Either way, the end result was the same – Collier Lanes is going to get some financial justice from AT&T that it might not have otherwise received – at least not without a lawyer – had the Oxford Leader not intervened.

"Once you got involved, things went real quick. So, I owe you," said Jeff Collier, owner of the 65-year-old bowling alley located at 879 S. Lapeer Rd.

Collier indicated he's going to receive at least $11,500 from AT&T as reimbursement for some of the years he was paying for an emergency line to nowhere.

A few months back Collier was having AT&T's U-verse service installed at his bowling alley. It was during this work that it was discovered the direct line he had running between two panic buttons and the Oxford Village Police dispatch center, located at 22 W. Burdick St., was no longer functioning. It had been disconnected, apparently by AT&T.

Panic buttons are an added security feature. If the bowling alley ever falls victim to an armed robbery, an employee or owner can simply hit one of the buttons to instantly and silently alert local law enforcement, who would rush to the scene.

Collier made it clear these buttons are functional again as the silent alarm is now connected to a private security company, which will notify law enforcement in emergency situations.

Prior to learning the panic buttons were nonfunctional, Collier was paying a monthly fee to AT&T for the direct line to the police station. The records provided to him by the phone company only go back to September 2006, but they show Collier was paying $76.40 per month at that point. His monthly fee steadily increased over the next six years until it got to a high point of $294.20 in August 2012.

"Why it got to that amount? I have no idea," Collier said.

But why is AT&T only providing six years worth of records?

"They said that's as far back as their records go. They can't go any farther back than six years," Collier said.

Collier believes these buttons were installed at the alley at least 20 years ago, back when Oxford was protected by a joint township-village police department. That department dissolved in February 2000 and since then the village has been served by its own police agency while the township contracts with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

When Collier went to the village police station to inquire about the panic button line, he was told, "We got rid of that system like 12-13 years ago."

Collier then wondered "where does my alarm go?"

"They said, 'We don't know,'" he said.

There was a thought that maybe the line was now connected to the sheriff's dispatch center in Pontiac since Collier Lanes is located within the township's jurisdiction.

"I called up to the alley and had them press it to find out where it was going," Collier said. "(The village dispatcher) called Oakland County to let them know we were doing this and it didn't go nowhere. I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? I'm paying $300 a month and this goes nowhere?'"

Collier contacted AT&T about all this back in September. The phone company investigated the situation and notified him of the results in a Nov. 2 e-mail.

"This is to inform you that your dispute . . . in the total amount of $42,364.80 has been resolved. After a thorough investigation into your claim it has been determined that no adjustment is warranted at this time," wrote Heidi Rea, an AT&T Business Solutions customer care representative.

That $42,364.80 amount was based on the incorrect assumption that Collier had been paying $300 per month for approximately 12 years.

The Nov. 2 e-mail contained no explanation of what the investigation determined or why Collier was not entitled to any of the money he had paid over the years for a line that was essentially connected to nothing.

"It didn't (give) any details; it just said they weren't going to reimburse me anything," Collier said.

That all changed once the Leader started calling AT&T and asking questions.

This reporter contacted Rea about the situation and she said, "I checked with my manager and I am not able to give out any information."

AT&T representative Jermaine Spight then contacted this reporter Dec. 6 and indicated the matter would be investigated further. The Leader forwarded Spight, at his request, copies of all the e-mails Collier had received from AT&T.

Ten days later, Spight sent an e-mail to the Leader stating, "We have been in contact with Mr. Collier to help resolve his case. However, I will not be able to issue you a statement as we do not comment on the status of our customers' account(s) in order to protect their privacy."

The bottom-line is, according to Collier, AT&T has now agreed to pay him $11,500, plus taxes and surcharges.

He's "real happy" with the result.

"I definitely can use it," Collier said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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