I was planning to write this post anyway, but At&t seems to have wanted to help by having a widespread data outage in San Francisco on Friday.
So this past week, somehow the roar of dissatisfaction coming from the users in arguably the two most important (in terms of early adopters, tech media, etc.) cities in the US (New York and San Francisco) has finally pierced the veil of indifference of the At&t brass. The Wall Street Journal reported on the comments of At&t Mobility’s CEO:
Manhattan and San Francisco, particularly the city’s financial district, “are performing at levels below our standards,” Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, said at an investors conference.
Those two cities see especially high smart-phone penetration, which has put pressure on AT&T’s data network. The company expects to see gradual improvements in New York and plans to replace some microcells in San Francisco, he said.
“This is going to get fixed,” Mr. de la Vega said. “In both of those markets, I am very confident that you’re going to see significant progress.”
With about 3% of smart-phone customers driving 40% of data traffic, AT&T is considering incentives to keep those subscribers from hampering the experience for everyone else, he said. “You can rest assured that we’re very sure we can address it in a way that’s consistent with net-neutrality and FCC regulations.”
Many customers don’t know how much bandwidth they’re consuming, Mr. de la Vega added. When AT&T conducted a broadband test, customers often reduced their data use. Longer-term, he said, a pricing scheme based on usage is likely, though it will be determined by industry competition and regulatory guidelines.
In another article, the Wall Street journal quoted him further:
“What we actually found out is customers didn’t know how they were using data … but once you alerted them to it, they actually reduce their consumption significantly,” he said.
My response in short is “wow”. The disconnect with reality is so absurd it almost seems unfair to point it out. How could you create and promote an expensive product with an expensive service only to have it perform terribly and then blame the enthusiastic customers who used it as you marketed it for the failure?
I’ve been trying to think of the appropriate analogy and in the meantime came across this brilliant post by Fake Steve Jobs. He uses the analogy of a Beatles record, but you can really use anything. Fundamentally At&t assumed that nobody would use their network and now they are flummoxed as to what to do now that they have a device that allows/encourages people to use it. Why not build out a kick-ass network and offer people the ability to purchase higher data speeds for more money? Incentives to use the product less? Really? Since when is wireless spectrum/bandwidth a precious natural resource?
Anyway – I think I’ve written about this already before…. What do you guys think? What should At&t do?