Throttled iPhones help AT&T show how hard it is to drive smartphone customers away

Plan to shift from unlimited to "unlimited" data plan relies on manipulation, scapegoating of customers

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The result was less like a clear contract than it was like "all you can eat" special at the kind of greasy spoon where your first two plates are clean and the fish is nicely wood-grilled. The third plate isn't so clean and the fish comes in bits that look like they came off other people's plates with a zip in the microwave on the way out of the kitchen. The fourth plate is paper (not clean) with a single fish stick (still frozen).

Rather than setting a hard data limit on the plan, it announced it would instead punish the gross data hogs within its customer base by throttling the bandwidth they can use each month, saving that bandwidth for nicer, more deserving customers that paid for service but didn't actually use it.

AT&T emphasized that bandwidth throttles and other punitive measures would affect only the very top tier of their data hogs – horrible, greedy people who grab so much bandwidth for themselves they leave hardly any for those around them, AT&T implied. No carrier would be so crass as to throttle customers using a reasonable amount of bandwidth for which they pay a reasonable price, whether the carrier was legally allowed to do so or not.

Didn't work out that way. Or, if it was that way at first, it's not any more.

For example: Mike Trang, a property manager in Orange County, Calif. Uses an AT&T iPhone 4 in ways so common nothing he did is remotely worthy of being covered as news.

"Mike Trang likes to use his iPhone 4 as a GPS device, helping him get around in his job. Now and then, his younger cousins get ahold of it, and play some YouTube videos and games," Mike Trang likes to use his iPhone 4 as a GPS device, helping him get around in his job. Now and then, his younger cousins get ahold of it, and play some YouTube videos and games." according to the AP story (via NPR.org).

Nothing about the way Trang uses his iPhone 4 is unusual or excessive, especially compared to corporate road warriors who spend a lot of time logged on to remote servers, up- and downloading large files and sending game moves to each other across the mobile net.

Grading on a curve: Good in college, bad in smartphone contracts

AT&T grades data hoggery on a curve, however.

Rather than setting specific levels of data use it considers to be excessive, AT&T grades on a curve.

The 5 percent of customers within a particular area with the highest data-usage numbers would get throttled.

That's fair in one sense; if you live in a place that has one cell tower to serve half a state, it makes sense to identify the heaviest users in that area as data hogs, even if the amount of data they use is relatively low.

Photo Credit: 

Reuters

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