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Vote With Your Wallets: A Call to Arms Against AT&T

Posted in iPhone, Miscellaneous on 22/08/2012 by J. Glenn Künzler

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This morning, AT&T released a statement defending their decision to restrict cellular FaceTime access to anyone but holders of their new shared plans – yet another offense to their already disturbingly long list of anti-consumer moves, proving once again that they do not care about their customers – just their money.

Before I go any further, I want to state right up front that this is not a news article. It is an editorial. And it will be biased – not biased against AT&T, but biased in favor of AT&T’s customers, and consumers in general.

 From capping their “unlimited” data, and blaming users for using too much of the “unlimited” data that they paid for, and even throttling unlimited data speeds to painful, cripplingly slow levels (they later said unlimited plans were a “mistake”) and bullying users into giving up those plans, to conning users into paying for plan add-ons that they had no intention of buying, AT&T has repeatedly spit directly in the face of consumer interest.

 I’ve already addressed AT&T’s obscene argument from earlier this morning – but as this is a call to arms, it’s appropriate to reiterate those comments. To do so, I’m going to rip Bob Quinn’s argument to bits piece by piece and statement by statement.

First:

Last week, we confirmed plans to make FaceTime available over our mobile broadband network for our AT&T Mobile Share data plan customers. 

FaceTime is a video chat application that has been pre-loaded onto every AT&T iPhone since the introduction of iPhone 4.  Customers have been using this popular app for several years over Wi-Fi.  AT&T does not have a similar preloaded video chat app that competes with FaceTime or any other preloaded video chat application.  Nonetheless, in another knee jerk reaction, some groups haverushed to judgment and claimed that AT&T’s plans will violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules.  Those arguments are wrong. 

Ridiculous. This is not a “knee-jerk” reaction, Mr. Quinn. Ever since AT&T first became the exclusive carrier for the original iPhone, they set out time and time again to prove they didn’t deserve it. It started with frequent dropped calls and poor network performance. AT&T would have you believe this was the fault of unlimited plans. That is false.

The truth is that it’s because AT&T failed to prepare (they even admitted this themselves). They could have dipped into their considerable corporate profits to bolster their networks. They could have chosen not to offer unlimited plans in the first place. Instead, they chose to offer unlimited plans, and then yank them out from under the noses of their customers.

Further, the fact that AT&T doesn’t offer a preloaded video chat app of their own doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless, and it certainly doesn’t justify restricting FaceTime access from any of its users – especially just to bully them into signing up for their new shared plans.

Next:

Providers of mobile broadband Internet access service are subject to two net neutrality requirements: (1) a transparency requirement pursuant to which they must disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband Internet access services; and (2) a no-blocking requirement under which they are prohibited, subject to reasonable network management, from blocking applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.

AT&T’s plans for FaceTime will not violate either requirement.  Our policies regarding FaceTime will be fully transparent to all consumers, and no one has argued to the contrary.  There is no transparency issue here. 

OK. So AT&T’s decision doesn’t technically violate net neutrality by the letter of the law. Fine. That probably takes them out of the FCC’s line of fire. But arguing that you haven’t broken any “rules” is a piss poor way to justify screwing your users. Just because you can get away with something doesn’t make it OK.

Sure, AT&T is being transparent about their plans for FaceTime. Again, this isn’t relevant to customers. It’s only relevant to their absurd “but we didn’t brak any rules!” argument. The statement goes on to say that AT&T isn’t actually “blocking” access to FaceTime over Cellular:

Nor is there a blocking issue.  The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones.  Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps.  Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services.   AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems. (I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps.  But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.”)  Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.

Bullshit. AT&T is doing nothing more than pointing out a technicality. What they’re saying is that they can block FaceTime because it’s built into the iPhone. If it were a user-downloadable app, they couldn’t. It’s not that there’s any real difference in an app depending on whether or not it was downloaded. It’s just a loophole they are using to justify bad behavior.

As I’ve said before, it’s bad enough that this loophole exists. But it’s even worse that AT&T is exploiting it to their advantage – and directly at the expense of their customers, many of whom have no need for AT&T’s shared data plans, and may even end up paying more by switching over.

Although the rules don’t require it, some preloaded apps are available without charge on phones sold by AT&T, including FaceTime, but subject to some reasonable restrictions.  To date, all of the preloaded video chat applications on the phones we sell, including FaceTime, have been limited to Wi-Fi.  With the introduction of iOS6, we will extend the availability of the preloaded FaceTime to our mobile broadband network for our Mobile Share data plans which were designed to make more data available to consumers.  To be clear, customers will continue to be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose.  

So now AT&T is playing the hero. “We do allow some preloaded apps without charge. We’re the good guys, I promise!”. Then they reference “reasonable restrictions.” This is the point where the bullshit get so sticky that you have to spend weeks scrubbing it from your boots.

They cite that all preloaded video apps so far have been WiFi only. Again, that’s a useless point – and probably a red herring. They then go back to playing the hero role, saying that they will extend the ability to use FaceTime over cellular to holders of their shared data plans. How selfless. How generous. How absolutely good-willed of them. Except that it’s really just a scam to attempt to sway users into signing onto their new plans. Yup. I used the word scam. Because it is one.

Next:

We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience. 

AT&T would have you believe that they are “broadening their customers’ abilities.” They’re not broadening anything. They’re making their customers choose between a feature which they should be entitled to use on data that they are already for, and keeping the plans they already have, and which they chose for a reason.

AT&T isn’t technically charging for access to FaceTime over cellular. But forcing users to switch to a plan they otherwise might not (which may indeed cost them more money) amounts to the same thing. Charging extra to allow users to take full advantage of data they are already paying for isn’t OK. It’s theft, plain and simple.

Of course, AT&T contends that this isn’t about bullying customers, but rather about defending their network to make sure it works best for everybody. This, despite the fact that it doen’t add up that FaceTime would significantly impact their networks, since users are already entitled to the data they are paying for, and all AT&T data plans (even their “unlimited” plan) already have caps.

Quinn shoots himself in the foot, by essentially admitting that the real problem is that AT&T’s network is weak. It’s fragile. It can’t handle the demands of real-world use. Instead of turning customers away, or bolstering their network, they continue to bring on more customers, and them cripple their ability to use what they paid for.

Last but not least:

We will be monitoring the impact the upgrade to this popular preloaded app has on our mobile broadband network, and customers, too, will be in a learning mode as to exactly how much data FaceTime consumes on those usage-based plans.  We always strive to provide our customers with the services they desire and will incorporate our learnings from the roll-out of FaceTime on our mobile broadband network into our future service offerings.

Translation: Instead of making sure our network can handle the demands of our customers, we’ll just make our customers lab rats. Any customer who doesn’t want to be a lab rat will be bullied until they either agree to become a lab rat, or give up and “hand over their lunch money”.

I get it. AT&T’s network is fragile, weak, and insuficcient. It can’t handle the load of actual real-world use (although somehow it will magically be able to if everyone switches to shared data plans). AT&T’s network sucks. Fine. But that’s not the customer’s problem.

A Call to Arms

AT&T has repeatedly spit directly in the face of their customers. They’ve broken their promises. They’ve lied, and tried to scam users into signing up for more expensive service offerings. They’ve tried to scam users into giving up data plans they paid for (and then refuse to re-activate those plans). They’ve crippled the services they offered to users. They’ve modified user contracts without permission or notification (at least in the case of unlimited data). They’ve even flat-out robbed their customers by charging extra money for “features” that don’t cost them a damn cent. And their customers are well aware.

It’s not about whether or not AT&T can legally get away with this. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about the impact it will have on customers. It’s about not violating consumer trust.

Add this to the ever-increasing list of foolish and anti-consumer moves made by AT&T. Fail.

I’m not willing to tolerated it any longer. As the 1976 film Network put it, “I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” As consumers, we must stand up for ourselves. As a society, we have an obligation to stang up against tyrants, no matter what form they take.

Some of you might be saying, “leave us alone”, “don’t bother us,” or question why you should do anything about this. Quoting once more from Network, “”Well I’m not gonna leave you alone! I wanna get you mad!” I want you to open up your windows, and scream “I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”

Sure, you could rant, or you could sign a petition. But do you know what would take a huge load off of AT&T’s network? If customers stood up and left for another carrier. AT&T is saying we can get away with screwing our customers, and that makes it OK. Lets’ show them that they’re wrong.

It’s not about whether you actually even use or want FaceTime over Cellular. It’s about rebelling against tyrants. It’s about not letting AT&T get away with their scam. It’s about standing up for yourself. Sure, AT&T can screw their customers. But we can give it right back.

I have a problem with AT&T, and even though I don’t want to lose my unlimited data, I am done. I’ve had it with a company who repeately proves they couldn’t care less about their customers. As soon as Apple’s next iPhone is out, I am long gone.

If you have a problem with AT&T’s repeated habit of failure in respect to their customers, put your money where you mouth is and leave. Kick them directly in the only place they really care about anyway: their wallets.

But enough of my chatter. Enough talk. The gloves are off. It’s time to do battle, and this is my battle cry: Stand up and act! Who’s with me?



  • Pingback: AT&T 'Expands' FaceTime Over Cellular to More Users, Unlimited and 3G Customers Still Out of Luck | MacTrast()

  • http://www.facebook.com/cubedweller Todd Reilly

    I live in NJ and AT&T service was practically non-existent for the first few days of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Everyone I knew with a Verizon phone had no problems. I finally got a text on my iPhone 4 from AT&T thanking me for my patience. That sealed it for me. I’m now looking for an iPhone 5 on Verizon.

  • Ben Hermans

    This problem already a problem here in the Netherlands for 2 years, and yeah it sucks!

Author

J. Glenn Künzler

Glenn is Managing Editor at MacTrast, and has been using a Mac since he bought his first MacBook Pro in 2006. Now he's up to his neck in Apple, and owns an old iBook, a 2012 iMac with an extra Thunderbolt display for good measure, a 4th-generation iPad, an iPad mini, 2 iPhones, and a Mac Mini that lives at the neighbor's house. He lives in a small town in Utah, enjoys bacon more than you can possibly imagine, and is severely addicted to pie.