AT&T Now Blaming Customers for Its Problems

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AT&T, the whiny wireless carrier, is back at it again. Fresh off whining in court about Verizon's map ads, AT&T is now whining to financial analysts about its customers. And it is warning that customers should use less of the company's all-you-can-eat data service, lest it become portion-controlled in the future.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, told analysts yesterday that 3 percent of the company's customers account for 40 percent of its data usage.

"What we are seeing in the U.S. today in terms of smartphone penetration, 3G data, nobody else is seeing in the rest of the planet," de la Vega said, quoted in the New York Times . "The amount of growth and data that we are seeing in wireless data is unprecedented."

OK, so de la Vega is saying customers are responsible for the company's service issues? Or is it more like a) AT&T should have built a more robust network or b) should stop accepting customers until its network is less overloaded, so that existing customers get the connectivity they are paying for.

Blaming customers for AT&T's internal issues is just whining. It sounds almost like AT&T is sorry we bought iPhones, which it may very well be, given the problems the company faces.

However, is it fair to blame those who send the company fairly large checks each month in support of their iPhone addiction?


Mr. de la Vega told analysts that while AT&T is rapidly adding capacity, it also plans to educate all its customers about data consumption in hopes they will cut back.

My solution: Why not have a heart-to-heart with those in the 3 percent club and leave the rest of us alone?

The AT&T chief also held out the possibility of pricing changes that could promote changes in how customers use data.

One positive step AT&T could take would be to help users understand how much data they are using and how their own usage compares to other users. Many in the top 3 percent probably have no idea their data usage is way above average, and might cut back if they knew.

This could be the companion application to "Mark the Spot," a new AT&T iPhone application that lets users tell the carrier about service problems.

The app, introduced this week, was met with mixed reaction: Negative that such an app is needed and positive that it gives the impression that AT&T wants to hear from customers about coverage issues, dropped calls, and other complaints.

As I've said, I don't think AT&T is the devil's spawn of the wireless industry (at least no more than the other carriers). We customers understand that the success of the iPhone has been a bit of a mixed blessing for the carrier, but, really, AT&T's whining needs to stop.

Customers are a good thing and AT&T needs to stop blaming them and the iPhone for its problems.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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