Tuesday, February 15, 2011

AT&T's "Data Hog" Lies Exposed

Remember the “data hog?”  No?  It was a huge crisis less than a year ago, supposedly threatening the entire cell phone industry.  Data hogs were the mythical creatures that “forced” AT&T to adopt a tiered pricing structure charging iPhone users per bit.  AT&T  claimed its tiered pricing would save money for everyone, except for greedy data hogs.  And who cared about them?

The data hog myth was widely reported in the mainstream press as if it was a fact.  The Los Angeles Times said that if something wasn't done about data hogs poor AT&T would be "forced to its knees."  The New York Times breathlessly painted a picture of evil data hogs downloading long into the night.  Of course, it was all total bullshit, transparently a lie from the beginning.  It was corporate spin to sell a much hated and unnecessary pricing structure.  The main stream press happily regurgitated the lies for their masters in telecom industry.  (Is anyone disappointed big city newspapers are going away?  Not me.)

The data hog myth never made any sense, as I pointed out in many of my posts.   But after a year or so of silly PR spin trying to sell a fake crisis, AT&T took the lead in showing their contempt for customers by instituting tiered pricing, pointing the finger of blame at “data hogs.”  Never mind that the way AT&T implemented tiered pricing, by grandfathering in all the data hogs, made even less sense if there had been a real crisis.  AT&T got what it wanted with its lies, and set about with big plans to screw new customers, and anyone trying to upgrade their service.

Naturally, the supposed benefits of tiered pricing, lower bills, better service because "data hogs" are reined in, didn’t materialize at AT&T.  Service was just as crappy as it ever was, because the problem was never that iPhone customers hogged data.  It was that AT&T simply didn't build enough cell towers to service phones properly (regardless of data requests).

We don't hear much about data hogs these days.  Not because tiered pricing controlled them, but simply because high data use customers are exactly who the cell companies want.  Verizon is offering its new iPhone customers unlimited data (for a limited time).  They apparently want the very kind of data hogs that were going to destroy AT&T.

Moreover,  AT&T doesn't want to lose any potential data hogs.  A recent article shows that if a customer gets angry enough about tiered pricing to threaten to leave, AT&T will grandfather them back onto an unlimited data plan:

So if it wasn't already obvious there was no data hog problem, it's crystal clear now.  Then why is Verizon only offering unlimited data for "a limited time?"  Well, because, like AT&T, it dreams of being able to gouge customers with tiered pricing, it just isn't sure when it will be able to do it.  You see, there is still a little competition in the cell phone business, and until AT&T and Verizon are finally in control of the internet, they don’t have the leverage to completely force customers into tired pricing.

Meanwhile, the real motivations for AT&T switching to metered data use are becoming painfully clear to customers.  A new lawsuit claims, no big surprise, that AT&T is actually systematically over charging customers for imaginary data:

Yep, you guessed it.  Once AT&T got meters on your data for billing, it started billing you for data you didn't even use, figuring you couldn't figure out your real usage.  The purpose was never to rein in high data use customers, who are the most likely to switch and shop around (and who AT&T and Verizon will happily cut unlimited data deals with).  The goal, of course, was to rip off little old ladies who don't use much data, and don't understand why their bill is so high, but figure a big corporation wouldn't lie.

That is, a return to the good old days of Ma Bell.  The problem for AT&T is this ripping off grandma strategy, that worked nicely back with a legal monopoly on long distance rates, doesn't fly so well in today's high tech information age where it can't control the flow of information and get people to think that black is white.  More lawsuits are likely to flow unless AT&T changes its stripes.  By trying to meter data, they are simply creating incentives for people to figure out a way around their service.  Just like how they lost control of long distance calling.

Once again, AT&T, why don’t you consider offering quality, price and innovation instead of greed, lying and overcharging?  You know, run your company like a business.  Seems to be working for Apple.