The article states that Congresses goal of 100 percent broadband access can't be met if big corporations aren't helped out. Helped out in this case mean's abandoning rural grandparents who can't afford $100 a month cable bill and simply want to be able to talk to their kids and police in an emergency.
Why on Earth do American corporations need assistance to do what is incredibly profitable. Providing broadband at huge monthly bills? Why is it that every other technologically advanced nation has 100 percent broadband, normally at cheaper rates, and big corporations like AT&T have to go to the government hat in hand for "help." This when they can't even provide proper service in the biggest city in the USA when they have an exclusive right to the iPhone and charge a fortune for the honor?
If AT&T isn't interested in maintaining land lines, they should spin off that part of their company and let someone else charge for POTS (plain old telephone service). I'm sure there are other company's that can make a handsome profit running that declining, but still profitable utility. But what does AT&T want? They want to continue to charge an aging customer base while neglecting service. They want to gradually cut off the less profitable areas, were people need the service the most, and keep the cash cows on life support while bumbling into broadband. Oh, and they want the right to tell grandma she has to switch to cable because they're shutting down her phone line.
Someone in government really needs to rap AT&T on the knuckles on this one.
Amazingly, there is no official statement from AT&T trying to explain what happened and what is going on. This is unbelievable for a major corporation. Something is seriously wrong with the management that a day after such a PR nightmare they have no official response.
It would appear that they don't want to admit to the real reason for cutting off on-line sales to New York, which is starting too look like a simple money grab. Reports are there were discounts available on-line that they didn't want New Yorkers to take advantage of over the Holidays so they forced them to go into the stores and pay more. That's sounds like the greedy AT&T we all know. Why get a dollar from your customer for tens cents of service when you can get a dollar and a penny?
The other possibility, that AT&T stopped making sales because it was worried its already overloaded network would get even more overloaded, seems less likely. I mean, AT&T shows little interest in really solving it's New York problems, and a brief sales slow down wouldn't mean much, especially if you can still buy the phones in retail outlets.
Regardless of the real reason, it's unbelievable that a publicly traded company of this size has no crisis management team in place to deal with these kinds of things when they hit the media. We already learned that with Operation Chokehold and the negative response to the floating of tiered pricing, but this has to be the worst example. 24 hours after a widely publicized news crisis and there's no official response? This moves beyond some idiot flacks and really speaks badly of senior corporate management. This company is headless.
This is unbelievable BREAKING NEWS. AT&T has stopped selling iPhones on line in the New York area and it's idiot flacks are scrambling to make sure the world knows they don't know what they are doing or why they're doing it. Here's a link with the full story:
When you're a paid AT&T flack, you get your weekly paycheck even as the empire burns down. Just keep looking away from the flames while you do your job. Remember that planted article in the New York Times that everyone made fun of? The one that said AT&T service was GREAT as measured by unverified sources in non-real world situations? Well, after AT&T flacks planted it two weeks ago, they were supposed to make sure it was repeated endlessly by other reporters in other publications as fact without any new information. After all, if bullshit is printed in the New York Times, it becomes beef stew for other publications to sample.
Of course, the real story quickly became what a joke the Times piece was, it was hidely ridiculed over the internet, it's "facts" exposed as lies, etc. And then Operation Chokehold came around and hogged the media spotlight with it's message that, as most people can tell in the real world, AT&T service sucks.
But now that a little time has passed, those AT&T flacks have gone back "on message" as if nothing has happened. And there are plenty of reporters and publications that are more than happy to ignore real news and print corporate fantasy.
AT&T is quickly learning that while it takes years to build a good reputation, you can loose it in a week. AT&T's New York iPhone service problems have now become a one-liner gag that doesn't even need explanation. Maybe it's time for AT&T to apologize to New Yorkers and promise to make improvements quickly. Cause this ain't going away on it's own.
UPDATE DEC. 21, 2009: Rabidly pro-Apple (and thus pro-iPhone) MacDailyNews blog has finally turned on AT&T after the SNL clip widely circulated. MDN has generally been defending AT&T as doing the best anyone could coping with the popular iPhone traffic surge. It continually dismissed (and under reported) Operation Chokehold. But now that it is becoming apparent that the tarnish from AT&T service endangers not just AT&T but the iPhone itself, today it finally turned on the service provider: "There comes a point where it doesn't even matter if what's being said is even true, it becomes a commonly-accepted "truth…" and you have to do something. There is a real danger to the iPhone in general that this perception that it doesn't work could assist the Google Phone. And I think that makes MDN's palms sweat. Here's the link:
As the dust settles after today's iPhone cyber protest here is an excellent quote from one unhappy AT&T customer on the Operation Chokehold Facebook page:
"Mend SternYes AT&T Survived, But now that we have this much press its time for round 2, hopefully they will take note and invest in their network, rather then spending it on sloppy ad campaigns…
AT&T had an opportunity when they signed an exclusivity contract with apple to showcase their network to a huge new customer base, and they squandered it relying on the fact that they had an exclusive contract, instead of seizing the opportunity to impress this new base, Like slumlords they decided to whore-out the network cramming in as many users with as little maintenance as possible, they completely missed the point and acted like an old crusty conglomerate, it may be too late for them to repair their relationship with their customer base…"
AT&T flacks, with the help of paid bloggers and others with a vested interest in the status quo, have tried to paint the protesters as just a bunch of crazy malcontents. But the statement above shows that many are very smart people with well thought out arguments as to how AT&T abused it's power, hurt it's customers and frankly the United States. As a nation we are last in the world in may key areas of internet service. It is a critical economic, educational and social issue, and AT&T must take at least part of the responsibility for the shameful state of our national communications infrastructure. Our major public tech corporations should be leading the world in proving the best service, not profiting as exploitive monopolies. AT&T should not be allowed to treat the United States like a banana republic and yet it does at it's own long term business peril. Meanwhile, customers have a write to openly and articulately protest as they did with Operation Chokehold.
Skeptics of Operation Chokehold pointed out early on that it's Facebook page only had about three hundred fans as of Tuesday. But the number quickly grew and as of today's protest it has 4,393. Which is not bad for a few days of promotion. It provides a pretty powerful mailing list to get people to write Congressmen for an Act II. Here's the link:
UPDATE/Dec. 19, 2009: The Operation Chokehold Facebook continues to gain fans even after the protest has finished. It's now up to 4,548 and still growing. And plans are being made for an Act II. Lots of interesting discussion about how to make even more of an impact.
As Operation Chokehold finishes, AT&T flacks are still "on message." They are working hard on getting magazines to explain why people should pay more for bad service through tiered (ie, more costly) pricing.
Of course, the argument that 3% of people use most of the traffic is simply an excuse to find ways to charge 100% of people more for their data services.
But lets pretend these statistics (if even true) where innocently discovered. Let's suppose we're in a meeting when the AT&T boss in charge of pricing is informed of this:
AT&T EMPLOYEE: "Hey, boss, we did a study, and guess what, 3% of our customers are responsible for 40% of our data traffic!"
AT&T BOSS: "What! That's outrageous! Charge them more!"
AT&T EMPLOYEE: "Wait, hold on boss. This is good news! Remember, we force people to pay $30 a month whether they use our data services or not. We're making out like bandits here! A lot of customers are paying full price for unlimited data service and aren't even using it much. It means a lot of customers aren't very tech savvy and don't use the iPhone for much more than making phone calls. It's just an expense status symbol for them. "
AT&T BOSS: "Still, people who use it more should pay more!"
AT&T EMPLOYEE: "Well, no. The whole point of offering unlimited service is so people don't have to worry about how much they use. It's kind of a social contract. If we wanted people to be charged per data bit, we should have done that to begin with. Actually, 3% using 40% isn't that high, I'm surprised it isn't even higher. We can't expect every customer to use the iPhone exactly the same. Especially since it's a leading technology. And we're going to look like jerks if we start talking about changing the deal. Especially when we have huge profits already. Remember, we are exclusive carriers of the iPhone and their are also anti-trust issues."
AT&T BOSS: "Yes, but those data hogs are tying up the whole network. We need to stop them."
AT&T EMPLOYEE: "Are you a frickin' idiot?! These are your best customers! You want to punish them, you stupid moron?! People who use large amounts of data are our most sophisticated customers, super tech savy, super internet connected and usually in high income brackets. They promote our product and are at the forefront of developing new uses for it! The people who aren't using much data are the sheep that follow them! If these people dump AT&T and go to another platform we're screwed!"
AT&T BOSS: "But if they don't stop using hogging all the data we'll have to build more towers."
AT&T EMPLOYEE: "You are a complete imbecile! How did you ever get in charge of a technology company! You have to invest in leading edge technology! Sometimes you have to take short term hits in order to gain market share! We have an incredible opportunity as the exclusive carrier of the iPhone to build out infrastructure and we're making barrels of money while we do it! How greedy and dumb are you!? This is not an issue of people eating too much at the buffet table. Bits cost almost nothing to move around once the infrastructure is in place! Do you hear the cable companies complain when people watch too much TV! That's our real competition! We should be investing in the future and thanking leading edge customers for using our products! These are the people who buy second and third iPhones and give them away as gifts! You really want to anger them?"
AT&T BOSS: "Well, I still think they're data hogs. And maybe we can raise prices, which is always a good idea. Have some flacks float the idea of tiered pricing and lets see what reaction we get."
AT&T EMPLOYEE: "ARE YOU FRICKIN' KIDDING ME? Are you not listening!? Why do you want to float around the idea of PISSING OFF YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS!? I can give you the answer! People are going to bitch like crazy and we'll look like morons again!"
At this point the only possible explanation for AT&T's media relations policies is a passionate self hatred that expresses itself in a desire to be publicly spanked. This column is devoted to AT&T criticism and I only briefly commented on the Fake Steve Jobs blog rant on AT&T because I found it long winded and not particularly funny. I didn't even mention the later post of an iPhone protest, a digital flash mob, because by that point my eyes were glazing over. (Though I've now linked to it on my update.) Fake Steve himself even moved on to photoshopped pictures of the real Steve Jobs with biker chicks.
But some flack at AT&T decided everyone on the planet needed to know about this mock "protest" on this minor blog for Apple geeks. Here's the amazing story of damage control efforts that involve spraying gallons gasoline:
Now, perhaps you might think I'm jealous Fake Steve is getting all the attention. But if all it takes is a blog post to get AT&T to rant about an "irresponsible" than trust me, AT&T Critic will get it's day in the sun and the traffic we deserve thanks to these idiots.
AT&T says that Fake Steve's post was a "pointless scheme to draw attention to a blog" as they drew more attention to his blog than they could have done with a Super Bowl ad. Of course, this gave Fake Steve Jobs the opportunity to respond again:
The truly sad thing for AT&T (which any good flack should have understood) is that this second piece isn't as long winded and focuses very seriously on a very serious issue. A cell company that has a monopoly on a piece of important technology (the iPhone) is proving very bad service for it's customers and over charging for it.
To stab the knife in deeper into it's own chest, AT&T also spouts that there is nothing funny about a mock protest on a service "that provides critical communications services for more than 80 millions customers."
Firstly, no one would hear about this protest if AT&T hadn't thrust it onto the national stage by responding to it. Second, Americans have a right to peaceful protect (I think it was in our service contracts) and that usually involves creating some discomfort for the people being protested against. But there is much more serious point:
If AT&T can't handle a protest that involves simply USING IT'S SERVICE, organized by a small blog (even if promoted highly by AT&T's own flacks), then why the hell are they in charge of such a critical piece of America's infrastructure?
What happens if there is another terrorist attack? Or some other significant event that could generate significant traffic? New Yorkers are fucked? AT&T has no plans for how to deal with huge traffic spikes (caused by obscure blogs)? We've gone from a boring blog post to what could be calls for a Congressional investigation. Should some Congressman pull the AT&T reps into a public forum and ask them what their plans are for dealing with traffic in a serious situation if they panic over what is barely a practical joke? And while Congress is at it, they should ask why AT&T's monopoly over the iPhone shouldn't be broken immediately.
Here's what AT&T flacks should have responded when asked about the Fake Steve Jobs Blog: "No comment. Off the record, what is a Fake Steve Jobs?"
If that didn't work, then "AT&T has the best network in the world. We can respond to any situation and have plans in place for events that might cause unusual traffic spikes. Other than that: no comment. Of the record, who cares about Fake Steve Jobs?"
But instead, this non-story has become a major story on the blogsphere and could easily leap off into mainstream. Bitching about bad connections has been raised to an issue of critical infrastructure. Seriously, AT&T, find the flack and slap his/her wrists and do better in the future.
Finally got around to a little bit of a blog revamp. And here's our new mascot, Dr. AT&T. He thinks your "coverage" and "service" is just fine. He's evil. (Dr. AT&T, like this blog, is in no way affiliated with AT&T and is simply a fictional character representation of AT&T's evil soul.)
It goes on to argue that there is really nothing people can do about it. They're stuck with AT&T or equally uncaring cell carriers until at least 2013. The problem is this kind of resentment doesn't go away quickly. People have long memories of being kicked repeatedly. 2013 isn't a long time away for AT&T to ignore it's need to turn around perceptions of it's service.
Remember what happened to AOL. It had a opportunity to lead America into the internet age. Instead it tried to use it's early advantage to set up a closed old style monopoly. Now it's just a relic of the quant old early log on days.
The problem is AT&T seems to be acting like the cell phone market is a mature market and it's time to try to milk the cow until it dies. Rapid changes in technology can wipe out AT&T's market share faster than it thinks. And once a downhill trend starts, as AOL found out, it's hard to ever reverse it.
Those all thumbs AT&T media flacks apparently worked hard to get a weird pro-AT&T article by Randall Stross into the New York Times. It basically blames the iPhone for AT&T's well publicized service problems (particularly in New York).
It's a strange article, because it really doesn't make much sense. The iPhone is to blame, but it works fine everywhere except New York and San Francisco. (It also seems to work fine around the world.) The best argument for this was made on the rabidly pro-Apple site, MacDaily News.
Randall Stross' transparently fake journalistic "investigation" leaves little doubt AT&T planted the whole thing. "I was astonished to discover that I had managed to get things exactly wrong…" he bubblers. I'm astonished this shit gets in the New York Times. These days the New York Times has less credibility than a tech blog written by a crazy guy in his basement (as this one is). The paper can pretty much be bought and sold to promote the corporate interests of it's advertisers. Of what value to New York Times readers was a piece telling them that they shouldn't blame AT&T for the fact that phone service in New York sucks? Where are the suggestions on phones that New Yorker's might consider as an alternative to the "faulty" iPhone? This is really embarrassingly lame "reporting." New York Times, this is news? There's no other real news in the tech world that needs covering? You just had to get out this info on imaginary iPhone problems?
The question to Uncle Bell is, is there a secret war going on between AT&T and Apple? Are AT&T flacks trying to plant stories to undermine the iPhone and focus blame on Apple for their problems? Or is the hope that Apple loving iPhone users will forgive AT&T if they think their beloved company is at least partially to blame?
Or does the whole thing just confuse the issue of poor AT&T service with the hope Verizon won't win the perception war?
One can only hope someone at AT&T is putting as much effort into just fixing the actual problem.
It appears everyone has instantly questioned this planted article. In addition to MacDaily news, blogger John Gruber takes the time to tear it apart inch by inch:
So let's review. AT&T flacks plant a story in the New York Times to try to deflect blame for their bad service in New York. Odds are, virtually no one would read the story anyway, even on the New York Times website because there is no story there. No there there.
But now Boing Boing, which has a massive readership that reads everything that passes by it's feed, covers the fact that the story has to be bullshit. So now the real story is: AT&T get's New York Times to lie.
And their service sucks.
Great work AT&T flacks! Way to keep the story of AT&T service sucking in the news!
Of course, this is once again a trial ballon to try to create another "net neutrality" creating crisis. The problem is a few greedy bandwith hogs. It's a corporate mentality that keeps trying to figure how to get more money for less service. They would like to create data tiers with various charges, and ultimately charge per bite.
This is very bad short term thinking. Yes, despite the claims in it's ads, AT&T can't handle all the usage coming from iPhone and there are lots of problems. The solution is to fix it, not to try to penalize your happiest customers by forcing them to cut back on what they paid for or charge them more.
He discusses that Verizon is the number one network and that Apple shareholders will be disappointed with a deal with T-Mobile. But I think he's underestimating what a game changer the iPhone is. The iPhone has been a huge success, despite AT&T's overpricing for service (and service problems). T-Mobile, while in third place, has a good rep as a bargain phone service and very good customer satisfaction. Throw iPhone hardware on top of that and it might be a smashing success and give AT&T some much needed competition. Verizon might end up being the loser by waiting on the sidelines.
Mackay Bell is a technology and new media consultant and blogger based in Los Angeles. He was abandoned as a small child and raised by wolves. Fortunately, they were tech savvy wolves that had a nice apartment in San Francisco. He grew up to be a computer consultant and now works in media. His debut novel, Eve's Hungry, about a world war between Apple and Google, is now available on Amazon.