AT&T Data Caps, Customer Threats -- What Next?

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Call me crazy, but I'm starting to think AT&T might actually be trying to get bad publicity.

AT&T Data Pricing Plans
I mean, come on: First, the company pulls the plug on its unlimited data plans, leading to what's being described by some as a bait-and-switch, especially for iPad 3G users. As my colleague Dan Frakes over at Macworld points out, the new setup reneges on AT&T's promise that iPad users could activate unlimited 3G service on-demand, when they needed it, without any contract or commitment.

To be fair, the AT&T data plan shift may not be bad for everyone -- some users may end up paying less as a result of the change -- but there's no question that plenty of people don't see it as a positive. AT&T's newly added $20 fee for tethering on top of that doesn't help matters, either.

AT&T's Data Pricing and Beyond

If the data caps and their effect on iPad promises were AT&T's only problem, I might be willing to cut it some slack. But they aren't. AT&T's love-hate relationship with its customers has been more of a hate-hate relationship for quite some time now. Even if you don't take the seemingly never-ending network performance problems into consideration, the company just seems hell bent on driving its reputation further and further into the metaphorical toilet.

Take, for example, AT&T's other PR disaster du jour: Someone from the company's "executive response team" apparently threatened a customer with legal action because the guy e-mailed AT&T's CEO. Oh, the humanity!

As first reported by Engadget, AT&T customer Giorgio Galante says he sent two e-mails over a span of two weeks to CEO Randall Stephenson. Galente says one e-mail asked about bumping up his iPhone upgrade eligibility date, while the other complained about the aforementioned data plan change. Neither e-mail, according to Galente, was in any way rude, hostile, or threatening.

Yet, soon after his second message was sent, Galente says he received a voicemail from an AT&T flack "thanking" him for his feedback -- and informing him he'd be the recipient of a cease-and-desist letter if he tried to contact Stephenson again. You can read both e-mails and hear the voicemail for yourself at Galente's Tumblr blog.

AT&T reportedly apologized for the incident late Thursday afternoon. But in my book, treating a customer like crap and then apologizing once you realize your voicemail's on the Internet isn't a great way of doing business. It's like the guy who punches you in the face and then says he's sorry when your bodybuilder buddy walks up. Despite his feigned remorse, that man is no gentlemen.

So back to my original point: Is AT&T actively competing for some weird kind of "Worst Company Ever" award? Because if so, it's making great strides toward a crowning victory. I'm not sure what else to make of this week's ordeals, especially when you combine them with everything else the company's thrown at us over the past couple years.

The most sensible explanation I've heard so far is that CEO Randall Stephenson might actually be a character played by Stephen Colbert. If only that were true, it'd suddenly all make sense.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the co-founder of eSarcasm. You can find him on Facebook:

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