12/17/2010 12:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Just a Little Screwed by AT&T

Well, tis the season and all that. For me it's the season of finishing up writing assignments, putting Christmas together and then heading out to work in Peru for seven weeks. To do that, I've not only got to get hotel rooms and have gas for the boats moved up the Amazon, I've also got to get bills paid ahead of time. A couple of months ahead.

One of the voluntary bills I took on some time ago was for my ex-wife Chepa's internet service with AT&T. My kids use the same connection and it was only $19.95 a month so it's a small price to pay to provide that for her.

I'd mentally put aside $60 to pay the December, January and February internet bills for her when the newest one came and it arrived right on time, yesterday. Without even opening it I wrote out a check for $59.85, then opened the bill. To my surprise, it was for $24.95. I looked for an explanation: There was none.

This morning I called AT&T and asked them about it. A lovely woman explained that the rate had changed and that I'd actually been notified of the change back in October.

"I missed that," I said. Then I asked her to go to that October bill and see what the explanation was for the rate change. I mean, it could be that the lines are more expensive or that AOL and Google and so forth were asking for more money. Or something.

"Well," said the lovely young woman. "It's just a rate change. You know. They changed the rates, that's all. There is no reason given. Rates change."

"Generally, there's a reason when rates change," I said. "You know, gasoline prices went up, you've hired more people...."

"In this case the rates just went up. AT&T wanted them to go up and so they did. Can I help you with anything else?"

"No. You've been great."

It's a small thing, I know. It's just $5 bucks, after all. But it's not really a small thing at all. How many people utilize AT&T internet services? A million? 40 million?

If it's just 20 million people, that's nearly $100 million a month. That's $1.2 billion a year. I'd like to think that there was at least a pretense of a reason if a company decides it's going to collect an additional $1.2 billion annually.

Something seems wrong to me if it's just a decision someone made over a martini, for instance. "Hey, Joe, know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking $19.95 a month for the internet is damned cheap. And I don't think hardly anybody will even notice if we give that a little bump to say, $24.95. I mean, hell, Joe, that's still under $25 bucks for the goddamned internet. Who even checks a bill for under $25 bucks anymore? Nobody I know. I can't even get my tires rotated for that. So that's what I'm thinking. Because that little bump might bring in $1.2 bil for us next year. Now that's a nice Christmas present..."

You always know when sharks are around, and you know to stay clear of them. One bite can kill you. But down in the Amazon they have pirañas. They just pick, pick, pick. They still kill you, but you hardly see it coming.