AT&T, iPhone, Data Limits: Will Data Offset Trades Be Next?

Got an iPhone? Do you use it? Do you want to pay more for that privilege? AT&T may move that way but it's not getting a lot of sympathy. See what the Chicago Tribune and The Standard have to say.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

The Chicago Tribune posted a compelling graphic this morning on the front page of its Business Section. It said that:

- “one laptop with a mobile broadband card typically uses as much data as” - “15 smart phones (ex. iPhone, BlackBerry) Or - “450 standard cell phones”

The accompanying article described how tiered pricing or caps on downloads may need to be implemented. Why does AT&T need to do this? As the article says: “3 percent of iPhone users account for 40 percent of traffic”. Interestingly, it’s AT&T that is talking up this problem. The same AT&T that got the exclusive deal to carry the iPhone in the United States is carping because people actually use it.

AT&T’s goal in all of this usage education seems perplexing. It’s also causing unexpected negative PR. The Standard today ran a story simply titled: “AT&T: Strictly for Losers”. It seems The Standard isn’t too sympathetic with the AT&T problem. That article also goes further talking about the Verizon vs. AT&T battle over 3G coverage. The Standard has Verizon winning this one – and I’d agree. Even my own teenager concluded that the Luke Wilson ads for AT&T were about coverage in general, not 3G coverage.

Looking at this in total, AT&T seems upset that:

- people figured out their 3G network isn’t as extensive as a competitor’s - their network is unprepared for the demands put upon it by the exclusive iPhone customer base they so definitely wanted and, - their already high pricing may have to go higher - customers are getting wise to the above

I feel for the AT&T PR team. They’re trying to spin this but it’s not working. The only thing this PR team could get to worsen matters is to have Tiger Woods endorse their new data plans.

Going forward, instead of asking its customers for more money, maybe AT&T could improve its network to support the iPhone customers it has. Or, AT&T should instead permit its customers to trade data plan offsets. If businesses can do this for carbon emissions, why can’t cell customers trade their unused data downloads in an open market? Oh, now I know why AT&T won’t permit this: they wouldn’t make any money from it. Back to the drawing board….

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