Saturday, January 16, 2016

AT&T Caves In on Unlimited Data

AT&T is a huge, publicly traded corporation that has a legal and moral responsibility to both it's current and future customers, as well as a fiscal responsibility to its shareholders.  In many areas, like local landlines, it has a government mandated monopoly, which brings with it huge responsibilities to serve the public good.  In other areas, it is one of maybe two choices for residents to have access to important life saving communications.  Moreover, it owns large amounts of critical infrastructure, including public airwaves and internet backbones on public thoroughfares, that make it an important player in America's overall economic well being.  It should be at the vanguard of tech and finance.

So why does it keep acting like a crooked desert horse trader or a slimy used car salesman?  Why is it constantly scamming and scheming and welching and hustling America?  It should be the finest company in the USA.  There is nothing standing in it's way but it's own greed and laziness.  It continually acts as if it would rather steal a nickel than earn a dime.

AT&T's cellular service was build from a very minor player to a big number two player thanks to it's original monopoly on the iPhone.  Critical to its success with the iPhone was the fact that it offered unlimited data plans.  They were expensive, but people love unlimited data and are willing to pay for it.  Profits from AT&T's iPhone services gave it a lot of cash to buy up more and more local landlines and grow.

But rather than build on that great opportunity the iPhone and unlimited data gave them, about five years ago AT&T started saying (lying) that there was a huge crisis and Data Hogs made it impossible to continue to offer unlimited data plans.  They planted stories in the press about the crisis of data delivery, they connected it to some people downloading too much porn, and basically invented a fake problem.  Their motivation was simply to raise rates and shift customers onto a pay-per-bit plans so they could try to double dip and charge them for unused bits and all sorts of other tricks to run up their bills for services people didn't really use.  Anyhow, I covered all that bull a long time ago, as AT&T colluded with Verizon to eliminate unlimited data plans.  Of course, part of the plan was to buy up T-Mobile and Sprint (who still offer unlimited data) and make sure Americans had no choice.  But that part of the scheme didn't work out.

Still AT&T stuck to it's guns for years, refusing to offer unlimited data to new customers, claiming it wasn't feasible.  Meanwhile, they did every trick in the book to try to force customers that had grandfathered unlimited data plans into lousy pay-per-bit plans.  They throttled them, they lied to them, they tried to trick them, and in the process drove many to T-Mobile and Sprint.  But in some areas, Sprint and T-Mobile don't work well, so AT&T was taking advantage of its monopoly control to force customers into pay-per-bit  plans they didn't want.

Then, not too long ago, AT&T bought up Direct TV (using profits that should have been invested in improving infrastructure).  The jokers running AT&T thought it was a brilliant idea to buy up a TV service, just before everyone in America started cord cutting.  So… guess what?  The Direct TV thing isn't going so hot.  For some reason, customers who are already being overcharged by AT&T for their annoying pay-per-bit cellular service, aren't so hot about also overpaying for fading TV channels.

So what can AT&T offer to customers to get them to pay for both their phone and TV services?  What is it that American customers really, really want bad enough to hold their noses and sign up for AT&T's marginal Direct TV service>

You guessed it… unlimited data.  So now, for a limited time, AT&T is offering unlimited data plans, proving it was lying when it said was impossible to offer them for the last five years.  Here's the link:

AT&T Caves In on Unlimited Data

Of course, they are hinting that it's only being offered for a limited time.  So BUY, BUY, BUY!

Much as I like being proven right, and being able to say I told you so, AT&T, please, I'm begging you.  Stop with all the schemes.  Just offer customers reasonable rates for reasonable services and keep improving you service.  You're too big and important a company to keep playing all these silly games.  People shouldn't have to buy crappy TV services to get unlimited data.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

AT&T Scrambles to React to Apple Leasing Program

AT&T continues to take one step forward, three leaps back. After mounting an unpopular and misguided effort to get rid of subsidized phones (particularly those pesky and expensive iPhones), AT&T is now forced to offer extra perks to get and keep customers, like it's recent 2 for 1 deal (which they only reluctantly admit includes iPhones). Why is AT&T scrambling, other than its lack of subsidized phones gives customers little reason to stay with them? They're scrambling because Apple's own iPhone leasing/upgrade program is a huge success:

This has some pretty huge long term effects, because all of Apple's leased phones are unlocked, meaning customers can ditch AT&T anytime they want, if they even bother to sign up with them in the first place. Customers buying iPhones online and in Apple stores means they're more likely to go with the carrier that offers the cheapest data rates, something AT&T never does.

You see, those rocket scientists at AT&T forgot the whole reason they were subsidizing iPhones was to keep people locked in. Once they took away the incentives, why wouldn't people flock to Apple, who they trust a lot more than AT&? If this becomes a trend, AT&T can not only expect less iPhone subscribers, but also less foot traffic in their stores. A really bad combination.

But don't worry, AT&T bought into the satellite TV business!  Just in time for everyone to cut the cord on expensive TV subscription packages.

Friday, November 20, 2015

AT&T'S Losing War on Apple

AT&T broke out in the mobile world thanks to an exclusive deal with Apple on the iPhone.  To get the deal, AT&T had to agree to Steve Jobs steep terms.  Never-the-less, the deal put AT&T in a position to dominate the mobile world.

And then AT&T dropped the ball.  They let the exclusive deal lapse and other carriers leapt in and stole iPhone market share.  Meanwhile, AT&T did everything it could to alienate Apple and Apple loving mobile customers.  First with attacks on customers who had grandfathered unlimited data contracts, then with marginal iPad support, failed attempts to push customers to Android and then removing subsidizes for iPhones in hopes customers would learn how expensive Apple iPhones were and buy alternatives.

Of course, if Apple customers are going to be forced to pay more for their iPhones, why shouldn't they give the money directly to Apple, and receive perks like Apple Care and yearly upgrades?  And that's exactly what the are doing:


AT&T needs to realize they have no future in mobile without strong support of the iPhone.  They need to stop playing games and realize Apple loving customers are the best ones to have, or they will lose them all.

If AT&T wants to hold on it's the shrinking base of iPhone customers, and possibly grow it, it needs to really send out a message it's on team Apple.  Here are my humble suggestions:

1. Go back to unlimited data plans for post pay customers for a small extra fee.  (They aren't really unlimited anyway.)  iPhone customers like unlimited data and by not offering that option, you're just driving customers to Sprint or any other carrier that offers it.

2. Offer free "unlimited" data for an iPad on family contracts with at least two iPhones.

3. Offer generous iPhone subsidizes before everyone flees to Apple's upgrade program.

4. Market AT&T as the best place for iPhone customers.  That includes getting executives to say how much they love Apple customers, rather than trying to downplay Apple's every move.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Are Smartphone Customers Holding onto their Phones Longer?

To give credit where credit is do, Glenn Lurie comes across very well in this interview on re/code with Ina Fried:


However, this is AT&T Critic, so I have to pull apart one thing he said.  Which is that he thinks smartphone customers are "holding onto their phones longer" instead of upgrading every two years.

I don't think this is true and he doesn't cite any specific statistics.  I think it's AT&T wishful thinking.  Every time a customer upgrades, there is a danger they might switch carriers.  AT&T used to offer subsidized phones for exactly that reason, to give customers a reason to stick with them.  But the amazing success of the iPhone, and it's high expense to AT&T, encouraged them to try to transfer the costs of new phones back to customers.  In particular, they wanted customers to realize how darned expensive those iPhones are.  I think this will turn out to be a huge mistake in the long run.

Even if it's true that some customers (even a majority) are holding onto phones longer, they aren't the best customers.  AT&T should be focused on high end customers, the kinds that have multiple lines and are happy to pay extra for great service.  Those kinds of customers are more likely to be interested in upgrading more often.  Those are the people that are going to flock to Apple's new leasing program.  And once AT&T loses it's hold on them, they are more likely to switch more often.  And if AT&T isn't all about service (including subsidizing high end phones) then why should people stick with it's higher than average monthly bills?

AT&T has got to stop assuming the market will cater to them, instead of the other way around.  They did this with their war on data hogs, only to help build up T-Mobile and Sprint which highlighted unlimited plans, and now they are trying to "educate" customers that high end smart phones are expensive.  Customers will get the message, AT&T doesn't want to subsidize high end phones.  Okay, Apple lovers will rush to Apple's leasing program.  The question is, will they stay with AT&T once they do?

Friday, September 25, 2015

ATT Stumbles as Apple Moves Ahead with New Upgrade Program

AT&T keeps losing the battle, and the war, against Apple:


Notice that all three carriers have quickly launched programs to counter Apple's new upgrade program… except AT&T.  I expect it will eventually come in with the worst deal to try to play catch up in the most half-assed way possible.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Why Carriers Should Stop Selling Phones

So Walt Mossberg says that AT&T should close all its stores, stop selling smart phones, and basically get out of the way of customers and smart phone manufactures.  Agreed:


Key to his piece is Apple's latest announcement that it is going to start offering unlocked iPhones under an installment plan, which Walt correctly suggests is a great way to push carriers out of the retail market for smart phones all together.

Of course, this all comes about because the bozos at AT&T hate Apple and keep trying to think of ways to punish customers that want iPhones.  Despite the fact that AT&T owes it's entire cellular service to having been lucky enough to have a monopoly on the early iPhone, they hate the popularity of the iPhone because it gives Apple too much power.  Power AT&T wants.  So historically, AT&T stores have done everything they could, including having salespeople lie, to discourage customers from buying iPhones.  They punished early iPhone customers who had unlimited plans by throttling them, and they dismissed the iPad as not needing a cell connection.

Recently, they abandoned subsidized iPhone sales, forcing customers to pay full price on installment plans.  The idea was to make customers realize how darned expensive iPhones were compared to Android phones.  "So you still want an iPhone?  It's going to cost you an extra $18 a month."

Of course, like all of AT&T's anti-Apple moves, it completely backfired.  Apple now has it's own installment plan.  It's not cheap, but it's likely to be a big hit anyway.  And guess what, now that Apple has loaded that gun, it could lower prices, create incentives, or offer other perks that would make getting your iPhone from Apple a no brainer.   If Apple got serious about it, there is no way AT&T or any other carrier could compete in selling iPhones.

Meanwhile, AT&T still offers marginal service at the worst prices in America, and terrible prices compared to services around the world.  Maybe, instead of thinking of "clever" ways to undercut Apple, they should work on providing good service at a good price.  While they still have the time to do it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Google Fiber Threat to AT&T

AT&T's deliberate neglect of America's land line infrastructure was supposed to be a classic win/lose.  AT&T wins/America loses.  After buying up local phone providers across the country, AT&T then generally abandoned land lines, often reneging on their promises to upgrade to fiber optics.  Profits from their land line monopolies were then shifted into building out mobile service.  AT&T won because customers were forced to pay for lousy land line service, or shift into more expensive mobile plans.  Customers lost because… well, AT&T was screwing them.  Particularly hurt in this scam, were some of the poorest Americans in rural areas where they had little choice but to use AT&T's expensive second rate services.

Of course, this was all dependent on AT&T retaining monopoly control of land lines, and not having much competition in the mobile sector.  AT&T assumed it could kill any competition in mobile by simply merging with or buying up any competing companies.  Unfortunately, AT&T is so universally hated, for screwing their customers, that even corrupt politicians couldn't stomach letting it merge with T-Mobile.  So it faces serious competition in the mobile sector from T-Mobile as well as Verizon and Sprint.  That competition isn't going to go away any time soon.

On the land line front, AT&T simply assumed no one would bother to compete.  After all, AT&T kept telling everyone it didn't make any economic sense to invest in fiber land lines.  Well, bad news.  AT&T is now facing serious competition in land lines from Google fiber.  Google just announced they are going to start wiring public housing:


Providing free and fast internet service to poor people is a really nice thing to do.  Of course, Google has some good business reasons to do it, not the least of which is that it makes politicians think Google is invested in making America better, not simply ripping it off like AT&T.  But there is another reason Google is doing it.

Providing fast/free/cheap internet is really easy.  For years AT&T has been trying to tell everyone about how hard it is to provide internet service, how data hogs ruin everything, and how everyone should be ready to pay more.  It's a lie.  Internet technology is following Moore's law.  Every year it gets faster and cheaper to provide.  Local governments can provide it at almost no cost, third world nations can do it for very little money, and Google can do it easily as an afterthought.

This problem has already been brewing for years because Americans pay more for worse service than many poor people in third world countries do.  Meanwhile, other countries like South Korea provide amazing service for very little.  And some European countries provide great service for free.  AT&T has really been holding back America from getting fast cheap internet.  If poor people can get free/cheap/fast internet service, why do middle class and rich Americans have to overpay for slow internet?  The answer is they won't put up for it for much longer.  Think of it as trickle up economics.

Google Fiber is increasingly going to be a huge problem for AT&T.  It screws up their plans to abandon land lines, and it screws up their plans to overcharge for mobile.  How is AT&T going to continue to explain why it is overcharging for slow speed internet service, when, thanks to Google, people in public housing are getting faster service for free?  How is AT&T going to keep up the myth about data hogs and how fiber land lines can't be profitable.  

Mobile service is great.  But land lines are still very important to customers and to America's infrastructure.  Businesses prosper with fast fiber access, and poor Americans also benefit from the educational opportunities fast internet provides.  This stuff is simply too important to America's future to be ignored.

There's still a little time for AT&T to try to turn the ship around.  They really need to think seriously about treating customers, even poor customers, better by providing great service at reasonable prices.  If they don't, there are others that will do it for them.  That would be another classic win/lose.  American wins/AT&T loses.