Unlike many Americans, Epstein had more than $10,000 to deploy toward his quest for faster service. He took out an ad in the Wall Street Journal with a message for the head of the world’s largest telecommunications company.
“AT&T prides itself as a leader in electronic communications,” he wrote in an ad that ran in the Journal on Feb. 3 — targeted to Dallas and New York, Epstein said, in an effort to catch the eyes of company headquarters and investors. “Unfortunately, for the people who live in N. Hollywood, CA 91607, AT&T is now a major disappointment.”
He signed off as “an AT&T Customer since 1960,” offering his phone number and his pacbell.net email.
Some cheered him on for taking AT&T to task as customers await the speedier fiber optic technology the company has touted in ads of their own. Others criticized him for burning thousands of dollars on a personal nuisance, pointing out cheaper solutions. The ad spawned tweets, Nextdoor comments and news stories: “You shouldn’t have to publicly humiliate AT&T to get usable internet,” read a headline from the Verge.
The ad also worked. Two men quickly showed up to extend a fiber optic cable just for him, Epstein said — and the chief executive of AT&T called to check in. Epstein feels he has tapped into the angst of Internet users everywhere.
“We struck a raw nerve,” he said, pointing to the comments sections on news coverage and marveling at how widely his ad has traveled.
“Go on your Google search engine and punch in ATT,” he instructed The Washington Post. “Punch in 90-year-old, punch in Internet, punch in something like slow speed. And you’ll see 10, you’ll see 25, 30, 40 stories have appeared across the country.”
AT&T confirmed in a statement that it has “expanded AT&T Fiber in this customer’s neighborhood.”
“Between now and the end of the year we will work to connect additional customers in the area,” the company said, describing the move as part of an ongoing expansion of fiber optic service in the Los Angeles area.
The company says it plans to bring AT&T Fiber to 2 million more “residential locations” this year.
Epstein said that up until about five years ago, he found his Internet service “slow but satisfactory.” Then came the streaming era, he said, when he began to watch movies on Roku and Netflix and despaired over incessant buffering.
He said he called AT&T asking for something faster: “Yes, yes, it’s coming,” he reports hearing back. Staff told him that AT&T Fiber was not available for his address north of Los Angeles.
At first, Epstein said, he called the company every few months to inquire about a solution. During the pandemic, however, he began to pester them weekly. He acknowledged he could have simply switched services but said he felt a certain loyalty, resistance to change and appreciation for AT&T’s years of customer service.
“My folks have used the AT&T phone service since I was born in 1930,” said Epstein, who used to sell computer parts in the early days of home computing and now owns a shopping center. “And whenever I did have complaints on the Internet service or phones, the AT&T people were reliable. They’re very courteous.”
The morning the Wall Street Journal ad ran, he said, he got a call from the office of AT&T CEO John Stankey. A staffer said she would see what they could do. “I just shrugged my shoulders because I’ve been told that many times before,” Epstein said.
But it turned out that an ad in a national paper made a difference. The very next day, Epstein said, he was eating lunch when two men in blue uniforms showed up at his door to start the needed installations.
Epstein said he hopes the newly expanded fiber optic cable makes it easier to connect his neighbors as well. He said he tried to drive that point home when AT&T’s chief executive called, promising “a million thanks yous” if they get the faster service, too.
He is aware of the criticisms: Why not give his $10,000 to the poor? Why not try to get the company’s attention free on social media? But he says he would rather be criticized than ignored.
His wife, Anne Epstein, 77, said she “rolled her eyes” at a draft of her husband’s ad and corrected the grammar but did not oppose the plan. She said she is an avid fan of the steamy historical drama “Outlander,” which the couple plans to stream tonight with their speedy service.
“If you’re a woman of any age between teens or tweens and 90 who is…