AT&T has blocked users in the greater New York City area from purchasing iPhones online. The rationale is still being debated, but it seems to be just the latest in a series of public relations and strategic blunders for the number two U.S. wireless provider.
The only explanation from AT&T regarding the iPhone blackout thus far is "We periodically modify our promotion and distribution channels." What the heck does that mean? Are we to interpret that to mean that AT&T has chosen to "modify" its distribution channels by eliminating one of the largest consumer markets in the country?
AT&T has faced mounting criticism from users, competitors, and the FCC regarding its network and its ability to provide adequate service for AT&T wireless customers. Cutting off sales of the iPhone in NY alienates a huge pool of consumers and tacitly admits that the critics are right--the AT&T network can't handle the iPhone. At least, not in New York.
The cut off of iPhone sales in New York follows a string of public relations debacles. First, an AT&T executive suggesting that perhaps replacing unlimited data plans with a tiered pricing model could be a solution to the network issues AT&T has experienced. That stirred an uprising spearheaded by the Fake Steve Jobs to intentionally try to bring the AT&T network to its knees in protest.
The AT&T network stood up to the challenge of Operation Chokehold, indicating that perhaps the critics are wrong and that the AT&T infrastructure is, in fact, robust enough to handle the data needs of its users after all. There have also been suggestions that perhaps it is an engineering flaw in the iPhone itself, and not an AT&T issue at all, that is causing much of the frustration experienced by users.
Cutting off sales of the iPhone to New York residents is a mea culpa on the part of AT&T that will come back to bite them. AT&T has little else to differentiate itself or offer customers aside from the iPhone. If the iPhone can't live up to expectations due to limitations in AT&T's network, or if AT&T chooses to throttle iPhone sales in an attempt to regulate data usage in high-population regions, users may quickly jump to rival service providers.
If this were a Mr. Magoo cartoon or a new Mr. Bean movie it would be good for some comic relief, but it's not. It is real life. AT&T continues to shoot itself in the foot over and over again with public relations debacles like the lawsuit against Verizon over its scarce 3G coverage. If I didn't know better, I might think that some of the AT&T executives have a huge stake in Verizon stock or something.
My PC World peer Brendan Slattery points out that the iPhone can still be found in New York if you go to a brick and mortar store. It's just not available online. That is a small consolation though, and not likely to win any points with customers.
As time goes on, that Droid is looking better and better.