Sunday, September 6, 2009

All the Little Lies

On my latest AT&T rant, I had a few people remark, basically, "who cares about MMS?".

The fact is, I don't. I have no plans whatsoever to use MMS. I'd like tethering, but I'm not willing to pay an additional charge to use it; I'm already paying for "unlimited data transfer" on my plan. I'm not exactly sure about the math involved, but I'm pretty certain that tethering won't cause me to use more than "unlimited" and it's not really AT&T's business just how I use that transferred data. Even when they do get it working, unless AT&T changes their policy with regards to tethering, I'll just forego it.

But, my earlier rant wasn't really about MMS. It wasn't about AT&T missing a deadline by two days. Hell, I've missed deadlines by two days before; I'm behind schedule on More iPhone 3 Development (which is why I'm sitting at my desk on a Sunday morning). At its core, my rant was s about something bigger.

It's about AT&T's approach to interacting with their customers. It's about the way they treat us and the complete lack of respect they show for us. AT&T has no qualms about flat out lying to their customers. They have a pattern of never taking any responsibility for problems their customers have, even ones that can't possibly be anybody else's fault but theirs. If you talk to customer service, it's like they all took a course in Defensive Talking as part of their employee training.

Here's just one little example. I logged on to AT&T to pay my iPhone bill this morning. This is the message we all get when we log on to pay (you've probably seen it):

You can click on the image for a bigger version if it's too small to read, but it says:
Your login is being verified. Depending on your Internet connection speed, it may take a few minutes for this process to complete.

And it does take a fair length of time to login - much longer than any web site that I use on a regular basis. But, that has nothing to do with my Internet speed, and the person who typed that message almost certainly knew that. I'm on a cable modem, and I paid this bill very early on a Sunday morning. Cable modems are shared bandwidth, so the less people online, the faster your service:

The transfer speed for pages, like AT&T's payment page that are mostly text, is meaningless when you're pulling down 12 megabits per second. Of the twenty seconds or so it took to log in, less than a second was due to my "Internet connection speed" Pinging that server resulted in a ~25ms round trip, which is 0.025 seconds. Worst case scenario, maybe a second or two was eaten up by transfer time and latency, or about a tenth of the time it took to log in.

AT&T obviously realized that logging in to their system would take longer than most users would expect it to take. Instead of fixing it, or just saying "hang on a second, we'll be right with you", they try to push the blame off of themselves and onto their customer and their customer's ISP. Believing, possibly rightly so, that most of their customers either wouldn't be savvy enough to realize that they were being lied to or just wouldn't care.

When it comes down to it, I don't hate AT&T because of their spotty coverage, failure to predict reasonable growth in 3G usage, or any of the other things that I've complained about here. Those are all just symptoms of a much bigger problem.

I hate AT&T because they seem to hate me (and you, too). At very least, they don't respect me, and they certainly don't take responsibility for their actions. We wouldn't accept this type of behavior from the real people in our lives. If I went to my publisher and told them I was behind on the book because of something my publisher did that was only tangentially related to my writing, they wouldn't believe me, and they'd be pissed off at me to boot.

Why don't we hold corporations like AT&T to that same standard we hold individual people? Why have we become so tolerant of abuse and disrespect from large corporations?


VesperDEM said...

I understand that this is a "rant" and so, its mostly a way of blowing off steam.

However, I've been with 3 other cell providers other than AT&T and I can say with certainty that all cell providers act the same. They treat their customers as complete and utter morons.

Truth is that 95% or higher of those users are complete and utter morons. Telephones are not computers. They don't require an expertise to operate them. You "pick them up", push a few buttons, talk to someone, then "put them back down".

Ask anyone who doesn't have an iPhone (since it's so incredibly easy on an iPhone) how to conference calling on their device, and I would bet that 95% or greater wouldn't have a clue how to do it.

Heck, I didn't even know how to do it prior to my iPhone. I knew it was possible, but it was so complicated with my old cell, that I never bothered to memorize it.

So its not overly surprising that wireless providers consider their customers to be morons when most probably are. Now, is that an excuse to treat them as such. Absolutely not. A good example of this was a music creation app I got for my iPhone a short while ago. I was attempting to add myself to their mailing list and was getting errors. When I wrote to the owner of the list asking them to add my email address manually, I was told I should copy then paste the URL into my browser since email clients tend to mess up URL. A perfect example of someone who "assumes" that their user base are not computer savvy.

I wish the situation was different. I have to wonder if just one wireless provider treated their customers like Apple does, if that provider wouldn't become the "winning" provider in a year. Which begs the question: Why are wireless providers such elitists?

LKM said...

I think for most iPhone owners, it's not so much about sending MMS as it is about being able to receive them. A lot of people send MMS.

Jeff LaMarche said...


I've never said it was surprising. It's still wrong and as long as they continue to be fucktards, I will continue to periodically rant about them being fucktards. Lying to somebody who's too ignorant to realize it is no better or more justifiable than lying to someone who might realize it.

I believe that the key enabler here is that it's a heavily regulated industry and the foxes are guarding the hen house, so the regulation mechanism is used to keep competition out more than actually preventing abuse, or whatever other things are supposed to be done by regulators. They get away with it because they can. It's basically a form of government-sponsored collusion among the providers.

And you're right - it's altogether possible that the next provider I have will be just as bad. Of the ones I've had so far, one was worse than AT&T, three were better. Frankly, I would gladly go back to Verizon in a heartbeat if I could use an iPhone on their network. They may have treated me badly, but they never treated me anywhere near as badly as AT&T does.

But, even if that weren't true, by leaving AT&T when the iPhone is non-exclusive, it will send a message. If enough of us do it, it might just be a loud enough message to be heard.

Terry Westley said...

When was the last time you said this sort of thing about your cereal company, your toothpaste company, or your movie production company? Oh, you don't have a single cereal company, toothpaste company, or movie production company?

Sadly, when it is hard to switch from one company to another for a product or service, the company tends to get complacent about customer needs.

When it's easy to switch (cereal, toothpaste, movies, iPhone apps), companies work much harder to keep you happy. If not, the competition will kill them.

In theory, government could help foster a more competitive environment, but I observe just the opposite when it comes to telcos, cable companies, health insurance providers: the list is endless.

Jeff LaMarche said...


Yep. The problem with regulated industries, is the regulators are not immune from politics or influence and, in fact, they usually seek out people with experience in that industry to regulate it. As if people are going to all of a sudden forget their friends and the perspective that comes from a career spent on the other side.

Add in the ability of large companies to lobby and get favorable laws passed, or unfavorable regulations removed, you have a situation that's ripe for abuse. It's how we ended up with the financial market crisis last year.

Personally, I think de-regulation is better once you get big-money interests gaming the system. It's far from perfect but the complex regulatory environment makes it a lot easier for them to hide when they're doing bad shit and gives them somebody (the FCC) to blame when they don't want to own up to something.

Danilo Campos said...

I say this on my blog all the time: any business who earns contempt from their customers and does nothing to fix it is dead as soon as technology changes.

It's true: all the carriers suck. And they'll all be Blockbustered as soon as some scrappy little (or big) company puts the right puzzle piece -- one we can't even imagine yet -- into place. Give it time. They'll be obsolete soon enough.

Jeff LaMarche said...


In an unregulated market, that's absolutely true.

Because of the way wireless carriers are regulated, however, it's close to impossible for a scrappy newcomer to come along.

VesperDEM said...

Actually, it will be quite interesting to see just how many people jump ship when the iPhone is no longer exclusive with AT&T.

I would consider it, but I'm terrified that the move would completely screw us up to the point that no on e on my family plan would be able to use their phones. (It's happened before with Cingular (pre AT&T buy-out))