AT&T's complaining about iPhone users

I'm an iPhone user... my wife (Hi, Carol!) is an iPhone user, and I even have an iPhone set up for development purposes that doesn't get used for anything else (despite the fact that we pay for it monthly). I also have an AT&T Data card, for use when hot spots are either unavailable or too annoying. Generally speaking, I've had the same experience as most AT&T users in the DC area, "meh". But, this latest complaining from AT&T about iPhone data usage has gotten me a little hot under the collar.

According to widespread reports, AT&T's CEO (Ralph de la Vega) has been complaining that those damnable iPhone users have created a situation where 3% of the users are using 40% of the data on his network, and that's the reason why his suddenly-very-popular-not-because-of-its-stellar-3g-coverage network is bogged down.

Well, Ralph, I'm here to tell you that you're extracting a heck of a lot of money from me for very little data usage. Carol & I use our iPhones pretty heavily, as far as I'm concerned, both in the house and out. But, I've got gone and looked at it, and we're averaging about 150MB/month in data usage each. For this privilege, we pay the iPhone data surcharge (that doesn't cover SMS any more) of $39.95 per month (that's in excess of our charges for voice usage).

Comparison time here. I mentioned before that I have a data card, which has a 5GB limit and costs me $60/month to use. Based on the relative price, I would expect that the iPhone user is paying for 2/3 of that 5GB, or about 3.33GB/month. Based on our usage (total of 300MB/month for 3 phones), we are paying 39.95*3/300MB or $0.40/MB for our data usage. Yes, if the use increased, we wouldn't pay more, but to put this into perspective, just on my not-very-oft-used data card, I use an average of about 300MB/month. At $60/month, that means I'm paying $60/300MB or $0.20/MB for data usage, or literally half of what we're paying for our iPhone usage.

So, I don't see where AT&T is getting screwed here.

However, in reality, they haven't claimed anything other than 3% of the users are using 40% of the data. This is pretty normal for ISPs. Since time immemorial, ISPs have griped about the disproportionate use of the high-end users over the low end. What they don't complain about is the 97% of users who get crammed into the 60% usage. As a matter of fact, I don't ever remember having an ISP complain that they were charging the low-end users too much... nor that they didn't want the high end users touting their products, just that the high end users were "unfairly using the resources", which is pure, unmitigated greed.

Now, some of you may be saying that I should be more sympathetic to ISPs.... the heck with that, I've been an ISP, I've made money being an ISP, and I've been the part owner of ISPs in 16 countries around the world, including Japan, the Philippines, Canada, the US, Brasil, Chile, Germany, France, Switzerland, Uruguay, Argentina, Panama, just to name some. In the end of the day, every ISP gripes about data usage, but none of them complain about the word-of-mouth from the power users and nobody sees usage patterns that are any different. Data use in the ISP industry is progressively up and to the right. People consume more data every day than the day before. ISPs don't have the luxury of sitting still like phone companies of old and letting their ancient equipment languish, they have to innovate and upgrade or they will be surpassed by their competition.

In the old days, in America, we used to call this competition and call it a good thing. We used to discuss how capitalism and competition was good for customers and good for international stature, as it kept us competitive in the light of everything going on in the world. However, I guess that's not good for America any more. What seems to be good for America (at least according to AT&T) is to complain about their customers until they stop using what they're paying for and sit down and take it like a child being told what to do. Sounds a bit like communism to me: everybody should use the same data so that the centrally-planned AT&T can move slowly and with plenty of bureaucracy.