AT&T Muscles into Custom Install

AT&T is going into the a/v custom installation business. I am running for president of the United States on the Audiophile Party ticket. Only one of the two preceding statements is true, but which one? They're both equally outlandish.

The answer is that AT&T is getting into the business of installing home theater systems, mounting flat-panel TVs, fixing computers, installing home networking, and (natch) doing phone stuff with what it calls ConnecTech services. Home theater services are broken down into five areas: consultation, flat-panel installation, system installation with TV stand, system installation with flat-panel mount under 32 inches, and system installation with flat-panel mount over 32 inches.

A consultation goes for $100. Flat-panel mounting ranges from $179 to $299 depending on size. A full system installation with stand-mounted TV and up to seven speakers is not a bad deal at $149, but if you want speaker mounts, the cost rises a bit, to $549 for all seven speakers. The single most expensive option includes a flat-panel wall mount over 32 inches, surround receiver, multiple signal sources, up to seven speaker wall mounts with cable concealment, in-wall video cable concealment, running of non-concealed cables along baseboards, programming of TV remote, adjustment of TV settings, and a demonstration of the system in case you don't know how to work it--all for $849. If the work is competent, that's a pretty good deal.

The big question is, will AT&T be able to consistently provide service on a par with a typical CEDIA-certified custom retailer and installer? AT&T's suite of services lacks a few things that a systems integrater can handle, such as lighting and security. It's debatable whether AT&T personnel have any experience, say, participating in a complex homebuilding or renovation project with an architect and an interior designer.

The ConnecTech scheme also depends on consumers buying their own gear, with all the potential snares and compatibility hassles that entails. If you make a bunch of bad decisions, AT&T won't be able to un-do them. On the other hand, if you know what you're doing as a purchaser, you can get a boatload of installation services for well under a grand. Not too shabby.

The company formerly known as American Telephone & Telegraph (how many people know the last T stands for Telegraph?) has come a long way since it emerged from the Bell System breakup in 1984. Initially a struggling long-distance provider, it eventually was absorbed into a new company that included Southwestern Bell and several other Baby Bells. Now it's the country's largest telco and, along with Verizon, one of two key telco-TV providers with the hybrid fiber/copper U-verse service.

For more information see the AT&T ConnecTech site.