Thursday, November 12, 2009

Welcome to the AT&T Critic

When the "new" AT&T came back from the dead after a merger of baby bells (broken up from the "old" AT&T) I was rather surprised when they embraced what was a historic, but rather unpopular corporate brand. AT&T was not a name that inspired warm fuzzy feelings from former customers, like say Lego or Chips Ahoy. Nor did it even inspire much in the way of quiet respect for past glory, like say IBM or Xerox. The name AT&T first and foremost reminds one of giant uncaring business monopolies that really need to be busted up if there is going to be any progress for mankind. In fact, AT&T was the most famous example of a corporation whose government forced breakup almost immediately brought about progress and change. Kind of like when the Death Star exploded.

So when a bunch of baby bells with local monopolies merged with a third place national cell phone carrier, what kind of message where they trying to send when they choose to revive the name of such a famous corporate villain? We're they trying to be ironic? Where they trying for some revisionist history, kind of like the re-embracing of Stalin in Russia today? Nope.

Because it quickly turned out the new AT&T was determined to be exactly what was hated about the old AT&T. It would be huge, force itself into your life, charge too much and provide lousy service all because you'd have no choice. It would be reviled and not care, and use its bulk to push around both customers and the government. It would gain market share not by offering innovation, but buying up telecom landscape and raising the rent.

Once my local baby bell had been renamed AT&T my business voice, DSL and fax hard line phone bill went up, became more confusing, and service deteriorated. Of course, the local land line had been in decay for some time, and service had always been neglectful, but something about slapping a bright new AT&T logo on a ridiculous bill for long distance access seemed to add insult to injury. The phone would frequently go dead, repair men would take days to locate and repairs would only last for a few weeks. Repair men would openly discuss the fact that the infrastructure was completely decayed and simply needed to be replaced. But there wasn't anything they could do about it because AT&T was waiting to install high speed lines some time in the next decade to offer cable services. But that would be after congress passed legislation allowing it to bully it's way into that market. In the meantime, I was expected to pay high land line fees for lousy service to finance their lobbying efforts. I cancelled my service and went with a combination of Vonage and cable internet access which was also spotty and too expense, but somewhat less annoying.

In fact, the new AT&T's greatest immediate accomplishment was to make much hated cable service a little less hated and to hasten the death of traditional land lines with they monopolized in many parts of the country. Fighting net neutrality and cell phone service interchangeability is another area where they come off just a little better than people advocating the kicking of puppies.

Unfortunately, the reason monopolies need to be busted up is because they work so well. So when the iPhone came out, and Apple was forced to make a deal AT&T to get access to their cellphone towers, I was also force back into AT&T's spiked embrace. Once again, I was forced to pay high fees (20 cents per text message? Excuse me?!) and accept marginal service that borders on sadistic (Pay more to upgrade my phone than buy a new one? Excuse me?!). I've seriously considered giving up my iPhone just because I revile AT&T so much. But my iPhone is so cool, what to do?

Well, if you can't beat them, start a blog. At minimum, I now have a public forum to voice my complaints so my friends and families can be spared them. And, who knows, maybe AT&T isn't really evil. Maybe they are interested in trying to provide good service at a reasonable price, and maybe a little constructive criticism from an outsider is just what they need to improve.

Maybe, just maybe, I could make a tiny difference. After all, this isn't the old days of Ma Bell when there wasn't any competition. As much as AT&T tries to buy up and dominate rather than innovate, there are limits to it's power. If it doesn't improve it's service and polities, I really do believe it will not survive. And there have to be people inside that company that know that.

The internet does provide 15 minutes of fame to anyone willing to use it, and lucky enough to say the right thing (or wrong thing) at the right time. Who knows, perhaps some sparklingly insightful observation or criticism from this blog will be Googled by the right AT&T executive just as he prepares his powerpoint for a presentation. "You see, the blogsphere hates this…"

You, dear readers, can assist by adding your own brilliant comments, linking to this blog and feeding me any insider tips to keep things interesting. You can contact me at


Mackay Bell
(Ma Bell's cranky Uncle)

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