D.E. Boehling
Ms. Boehling has over a quarter century of experience advising clients on wireline and wireless telecommunications and technology agreements with...
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D.E. Boehling | December 01, 2011 |


AT&T's VTNS and UVN Customers Lose Special Treatment

AT&T's VTNS and UVN Customers Lose Special Treatment Customers who currently have these contracts with AT&T should review them immediately, as the cost of complacency may be high.

Customers who currently have these contracts with AT&T should review them immediately, as the cost of complacency may be high.

For as long as I've been doing telecom agreements, we've been telling large users to pay attention to what's in the carriers' Service Guides, those lengthy documents that are incorporated by reference into enterprise telecom agreements and can really hurt you if you don't read them and negotiate to override the worst parts in your contracts. But the very biggest AT&T customers were insulated from some of the worst Service Guide terms and conditions. Until now.

For decades, AT&T's 200 or so Virtual Telecommunications Network Service (VTNS) customers were special. Comprised largely of Fortune 500 companies that had signed up for customized "Tariff 12" agreements in the late '80s and early '90s, they were both few in number and treated better than other AT&T customers.

VTNS users were the first to obtain customer-specific prices and better terms than were available in AT&T's general tariffs. One of these was a provision that prevented AT&T from changing VTNS in ways that hurt customers. Over the last decade, AT&T showed much the same respect for its managed service customers (including those purchasing AT&T's Ultravailable Network Service (UVN) services). By contrast, AT&T often took advantage of its right to change tariff and other Service Guide provisions unilaterally in ways that were adverse to customers.

Nothing lasts forever. As of November 17, VTNS and UVN service customers are treated essentially the same as the rest of the crowd.

When VTNS (along with most interstate services) was detariffed a decade ago, the FCC insisted that the carriers post their general terms in a "Service Guide" available to the public. Large customers loved detariffing; the carriers hated it. They didn't want to give up their rights to unilaterally change terms, so they insisted that the Service Guides themselves be incorporated wholesale into customer contracts. AT&T's first VTNS Service Guide changed the VTNS tariff in ways that were unfavorable to VTNS customers. When LB3 pointed this out, AT&T fixed the problems. The world was a bit different then--AT&T faced a market with more competition from aggressive new entrants, and by design it was not run by Bell Heads with a "I am the carrier and the tariffs control" mind set.

However, effective November 17, AT&T transitioned VTNS to a new Service Guide--and the new VTNS Service Guide and General Provisions are worse for VTNS customers in numerous ways. AT&T also eliminated the Managed and Miscellaneous Service Guide, making services like UVN subject to all of the General Provisions. If your contract specifically addresses an issue, the changes should not affect you with respect to that issue. If your contract does not address an issue, the question becomes whether AT&T--which since detariffing has been acquired by SBC--will again correct the "mistakes" as it did a decade ago, when the carrier environment was more competitive. Don't hold your breath.


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