from the how-very-AT&T-of-you dept
To counter the PR hit from Google Fiber, AT&T has recently been proclaiming that it too is now offering 1 Gbps services under the company’s “Gigapower” brand — but pretending that Google has nothing to do with it. On the surface, it looks like AT&T is taking on Google blow for blow, and that this is a wonderful example of how competition works. And while that’s true up to a point, as we’ve discussed previously, AT&T’s offering is highly theatrical in nature. AT&T’s actually been slashing its fixed-line CAPEX each quarter, but is offering 1 Gbps speeds to a few, scattered high-end developments where fiber is already in the ground.
AT&T is then dressing this deployment up as something much larger than it actually is — something I affectionately refer to as “fiber to the press release.” Fiber to the press release not only lets a company pretend to be cutting-edge while skimping on actual infrastructure upgrades, AT&T uses these barely-existent fiber deployments as a sort of carrot on a stick for regulators, threatening to pull back on these already-skimpy investments if, say, regulators try to pass net neutrality rules or don’t approve its DirecTV merger plans.
But in the locations AT&T is deploying 1 Gbps services, it’s actually engaged in something that — in typical AT&T fashion — sets an even worse precedent. On the heels of scattered Gigapower deployments in Austin, AT&T this week announced it’s also offering symmetrical 1 Gbps speeds in portions of Kansas City. After the press release gets done insisting that AT&T “moved quickly to bring more competition to the Kansas City area” with a 1 Gbps offering for $70 a month, quadruple asterisked fine print explains that to actually get this $70 price point, you have to agree to opt-in to AT&T’s “Gigapower Internet Preferences” program:
“U-verse High Speed Internet 1Gbps: Internet speeds up to 1Gbps for $70 per month****, includes waiver of equipment, installation and activation fees, and a three year price guarantee…**** U-verse with AT&T GigaPower Premier offer is available with agreement from customer to participate in AT&T Internet Preferences. AT&T may use Web browsing information, like the search terms entered and the Web pages visited, to provide customers with relevant offers and ads tailored to their interests.”
Assuming the company’s Kansas City pricing mirrors its Austin pricing, if you choose to opt-out of this particular brand of snoopvertising, you’ll need to pay $100 a month. That’s right: even when faced with real price competition, AT&T can’t help but be AT&T — and try to charge users a $30 premium just to opt-out of a behavioral ad program. AT&T’s Internet Preferences FAQ can’t be bothered to detail the technology used, though it’s most likely deep packet inspection (you know, the kind of technology small companies like NebuAD and Phorm were absolutely destroyed for using).
AT&T’s pretty clearly not very familiar with how this whole price competition thing works, and needless to say, most sensible Kansas City and Austin users will be taking their broadband business to Google if they want to avoid AT&T being AT&T. Not that we’ll get to see this on AT&T earnings numbers; since the entire project is a bit of a show pony to begin with, the company doesn’t disclose how many Gigapower customers it serves. AT&T just wants you to believe it’s on the cutting edge — even if that cutting edge predominantly involves make believe — and forcing consumers to pay a premium for privacy.