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The essence of comedy is timing. So I suppose it is fittng that AT&T, whose wireless network has been the punch line for Jon Stewart and other late night comics of late displayed rare comic timing by announcing it's latest change in policy the day after the FCC issued a Public Notice asking the public to file comments on how to measure wireless broadband performance and coverage.
OK, I'm pretty busy preparing for our AMAZING PHENOMENAL SPECTRUM CONFERENCE TOMORROW!!!, but I couldn't let this pass. AT&T has struggled with the phenomenal success of the iPhone, followed now by the iPad. AT&T utterly failed to invest sufficiently in its wireless network, and now suffers the consequences. This is not a spectrum constraint issue -- AT&T has lots of 700 MHz spectrum it could bring online. This is simply a failure to upgrade their existing network to handle the load.
I should add that while I jest at AT&T's expense (I'm a Verizon subscriber), we collectively encountered a similar problem in the mid-1990s with subscription to mobile cellular services. Then, as now, demand for wireless service far outstripped the the capabilities of the network. For a variety of reasons, the response of providers was to invest squindoodles of cash in their networks.
AT&T, on the other hand, has adopted a strategy which we could colloquially refer to as "sucks to be you." In an actual competitive market, AT&T customers less than happy with the change in terms of service would sashay over to a rival provider (did I mention I've been rather happy with Verizon, which actually looks like it plans to build out its 700 MHz network to avoid this sort of embarassment). Unfortunately, not only can you not bring your iPhone or iPad to another network, AT&T will charge you a humongous early termination fee (ETF) if you do. So AT&T gets to pass the consequences on to you rather than suffer the fate of lousy companies in a genuinely competitive market. This is one reason why even if the wireless market is competitive, it does not have "effective competition." But I digress . . . .
Anyway, the punchline is that if you are an iPhone or iPad subscriber, you are now stuck. Unless you plan to spend your life hanging out near wifi hot spots, you are only going to get a fraction of the value out of your super-cool mobile device. Props to AT&T for securing their Apple exclusive, btw, as this will certainly put a crimp in Apple sales and Steve Jobs will now be stuck with the consequences of AT&T's failure to invest, since he can't go to another carrier either.
So while you are all basically stuck, the one thing you can do is complain. Which brings us to AT&T's amazing comic timing. Just yesterday the FCC announced that it wanted to hear from members of the public on measurments for mobile broadband speed and coverage. Comments are due July 1. Perhaps some iPhone and iPad customers can comment on ways to measure AT&T's failure to invest enough in its network.