AT&T - The Grumpy Old Man of Wireless

Wayne Rash

As I head to the mall this weekend to shop for something cool to give myself for Father's Day, I fully expect somebody in the AT&T store there to be shouting, 'Get out of my yard!' A quick look at the activities of AT&T's management and marketing teams makes it seem like its customers are simply too much trouble to have around. In fact, one has to wonder if AT&T, faced with the success of the iPhone and other smartphones in its stable, wishes it weren't so.

The most obvious move of late was AT&T's announcement that unlimited data plans are going the way of the dial telephone. And just in time for a new version of the iPhone, customers are getting slapped with new, potentially much higher rates for people who use their iPhone or Android devices as they were intended. Interestingly, it would seem that users of other devices that exist mainly for e-mail probably won't be affected. Apparently the people AT&T most wants out of its yard are owners of those expensive new smartphones it's been selling.

Of course, it would probably help if AT&T had gone to the trouble to build out its 3G network to the extent that it claims to have built it out. As you may have noticed from those weird television commercials that Verizon Wireless rolled out a few months ago (those are the ones showing customers with maps floating over their heads), AT&T is coming up kind of short in the 3G package. The company, meanwhile, appears to be claiming that its EDGE network, which is fairly widespread, is 3G, which it's not.

This, in turn, seems to be making the AT&T marketing department defensive. When T-Mobile announced that its HSPA 3G network was delivering 4G-like speeds, which it nearly does, AT&T was the first to find fault, claiming that T-Mobile was exaggerating the truth. Never mind that AT&T is building out a nearly identical HSPA network. The company apparently wants to wait until its LTE network is built out to have something to call 4G, and thus have a way to charge smartphone customers even more than it already does.

But you should know that AT&T is proving to be an equal-opportunity curmudgeon. One AT&T customer wrote CEO Randall Stephenson to complain about the new data plans, and to request a tethering feature for his iPhone. According to a story on, the hapless customer was immediately threatened with a cease-and-desist order if he tried to e-mail the CEO again. More 'Get out of my yard?'

In this case, someone at AT&T figured out that this was overreaching, even for AT&T, and apologized to the customer. But still, one has to wonder why anyone on the company's executive response team ever thought that this could possibly be an appropriate response to a customer. Of course, he's a customer no longer-the customer immediately transferred over to Sprint. One has to assume, however, that AT&T will still slap him with an early termination fee. It would be the grumpy thing to do.

If you're choosing wireless providers for your company, this whole series of events provides a telling look at how much AT&T values its customers. Basically, it appears that the company wants your money, but not you. You, as a customer, are annoying. You should get out of the yard, but only after leaving your money behind.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 1, 2010 6:07 AM TheLip TheLip  says:
AT&T has become the old ma bell that everyone hated. It took people complaining to the government to finally get the company broken into baby bells. With the baby bells we had competition and happy customers. It's time for the government to look into the "organized crime" type of arrangement between Apple and AT&T. Reply
Jul 12, 2011 6:07 AM George George  says:
Yes sir. As an employee of AT&T customer service I can tell you this article hit the nail on the head. AT&T is only interested in your money folks. The company does not care about you as a customer only how much revenue you generate for them. Its why they rank your "value to the company" on your account that we customer service agents can see. 1's are the "worst" customers who dont generate a profit for AT&T. While 5's are the ones who generate the most profit. They get more leeway with policy bending while 1's are basically shown the door. Reply

Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.




Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.