When 83-year-old Ron Dorff contacted AT&T asking them to drop his nearly $25,000 phone bill, he realized the Internet service provider would not listen to him.

Dorff, a resident of Woodland Hills in Los Angeles, is used to paying AT&T $51 a month for his AOL dial-up Internet connection. He is one of the 2.2 million remaining dial-up customers from AOL's bygone era. The number is down from 2.5 million last year. For the amount Dorff pays for his low-speed connection, he could have gotten himself a much better service, but his ISP did not tell him he could upgrade from his misconfigured dial-up modem.

In March, Dorff was shocked to find out that AT&T sent him a bill for $8,596.57. Living on the $1,530 Social Security checks he receives every month, there was simply no way the octogenarian could pay that much. He contacted an AT&T customer service representative to find out what was going on. The rep had no answer to his question, promising instead to send a technician to check out his connection. However, nobody showed up, so Dorff thought everything had been smoothened out.

The next month, his bill almost doubled. AT&T was charging him $15,687.64 for his dial-up Internet usage for the month of April, jacking up his total outstanding debt to $24,298.93, including fees for late payments. AT&T also warned him that his bill could grow to $24,786.16 if he did not pay until May 8.

The customer service rep Dorff got in touch with sent a technician this time. The technician told him something was wrong with his modem but offered no information on how the misconfiguration could be corrected or what Dorff could do next. For the third time, he contacted customer support, which straight away told him to pay his bill, or else.

"The woman said they couldn't make an adjustment," Dorff told David Lazarus of the LA Times. "I told her I couldn't possibly afford what they wanted. She just insisted that I had to pay it. She was very blunt about it."

Lazarus himself got in touch with AT&T to inquire about Dorff's story. He said AT&T did not waste time assuring him that it was going to drop the charges against Dorff.

"At the time of your inquiry, this was still an open item and we were working with the customer to reach a resolution," said AT&T spokesperson Georgia Taylor, apparently forgetting that Dorff was told there was no way AT&T could make adjustments.

Taylor said Dorff's modem was set up to dial an international number when it accessed AOL, eventually ending up with the massive charges since Dorff stayed online for several hours. The spokesperson also said the technician reconfigured the modem so that it dialed the local AOL number when Dorff connected through his old-school modem. AT&T, however, could have informed Dorff that he could get a much better Internet package for his $51.

Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr

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Tags: AT&T AOL Dial-up