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AT&T Goes On Billing Elmhurst Customers As They Were Without Phone Service In Nearly 3 Months

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Senior citizens in an Elmhurst neighborhood were left frustrated and concerned, because their AT&T landlines were down for nearly three months, yet the company went on sending out bills despite no service.

Morning Insider Tim McNicholas fought for answers from the phone company.

Joan Miller is getting letters in the mail; from an old friend who tried to call on her birthday, and a doctor with important information about a refill of her meds, who have tried several times to call her without success.

Her AT&T landline's been out for the past 2 ½ months.

Even her daughter, Rachel, struggled to reach her at first.

"The first thing you think of is, what's wrong? When you can't reach, especially someone who Is elderly," Rachel said. "You think of all different things that could have happened."

A few doors down, 99-year-old Mary Pestillo says her AT&T landline is also out.

"My Life Alert isn't working, because if the phone is off, that's dead too," she said.

She's been relying on neighbors to help her make important calls.

"I get so anxious. A lot of times, my cell phone goes out, and I just, I go across the street, and Rick and Kathy help me," she said.

Those neighbors said they even reached out to AT&T on Mary's behalf, but they haven't gotten answers.

"It just doesn't seem like the companies really care as much about landline service," said Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "It is absolutely unconscionable that ... even a single home, could be without phone service for 2 ½ months, or over 2 months. I mean, really?"

Yet the company has not stopped sending out bills.

AT&T credited Mary's account for her missed service, but Joan said they haven't credited her yet.

"I'm past the ways of saying, fix it please. Now I'm just saying fix it. I'm tired of paying the money and not having the service. I think that's not fair," Joan said.

Her daughter recently bought her a cell phone, but she's still trying to figure out how to use it—and the family said service is spotty in the area.

"What seems like a minor inconvenience could really turn into a tragedy for any of the seniors in this area, who all the sudden can't call out for help," Rachel said.

Joan said she would keep checking the mail.

AT&T late Tuesday would not say how many people are affected, but a "limited number" of people lost service when a third party damaged a cable. The company apologized and said they will be crediting every affected customer.

Late Wednesday afternoon, there was progress to report. Rachel emailed and thanked us because her mom's phone is now working.

She said she experienced more than two months of runaround and no service. But then we get involved and it's fixed the next day.

AT&T released the following statement:

"We continue to make progress on our restoration efforts in the area. While some customers have already had their home telephone and internet service restored, we will continue working until service is restored for all affected households."
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