Outrage at AT&T’s Femtocell Policy is Stupid

It’s amazing how intertwined AT&T and Apple have become in the past few years. When AT&T announced their tiered data plans, judging by teh innernets, you’d think that Apple had ordered the destruction of Alderaan. Many of the major tech blogs were filled with foaming rants claiming that Apple had conspired with AT&T to introduce FaceTime and then snag its helpless customers on overage fees, forgetting that FaceTime is WiFi only for now. Right, as if Apple had to steal from its customers to make shitloads of cash.

We also saw hundreds claiming that they were ditching AT&T and going to Big Red, as if the grass were any greener over there. If the chatter is any indication, Verizon will roll out its new tiered data plans later this year.

Just today, someone made the observation that AT&T counts femtocell usage against the customer’s regular voice and data plans. And, as usual, indignant outrage ensued. AT&T’s femtocell, the MicroCell, is described by AT&T thus:

AT&T 3G MicroCell acts like a mini cellular tower in your home or small business environment. It connects to AT&T’s network via your existing broadband Internet service (such as DSL or cable) and is designed to support up to four simultaneous users in a home or small business setting. With AT&T 3G MicroCell, you receive improved cellular signal performance for both voice calls and cellular data applications like picture messaging and surfing the Web.

Sounds nice. While there are no monthly fees, you do have pay for the device itself and its use counts against your voice and data plan. At first glance, that seems pretty damn greedy considering that data is data and if it is travelling over the customer’s pipes, it doesn’t make much sense to charge for it. According to AT&T, via Business Insider:

AT&T explains the practice by saying there is a cost to handle the data transmission once it hits AT&T’s network, after it goes through your broadband pipe. (Likewise, it charges you for the voice minutes that you use over the Micro-Cell. But that’s a different service.)

I’ll just have to take their word for it until someone smarter says otherwise, but what interests me is that, in none of the articles I have read about this today, did anyone bother to look into what AT&T’s competition was doing. Turns out, they all do the same thing. Verizon follows the same policy with its femtocell, the Network Extender. Sprint’s femtocell, the AIRRAVE, works this way too unless you purchase an unlimited plan to go along with it, and they charge an additional monthly fee.

Judging by MobileCrunch’s poor reporting of the story, you would think that no other carrier would dare to count customers’ femtocell usage against their voice and data plans. There is no mention of any of AT&T’s competitors, nor any serious thought given to why this might be the case.

I understand why some of AT&T’s customers are frustrated. Even knowing that one’s contract with a wireless carrier has never included a guarantee of service — “where available” has always applied — the frustration isn’t unwarranted. People buy a wireless phone on the assumption that they will have wireless service, and the carriers aren’t always honest about the quality of service a customer can expect. Of course, without service, the phone and the plan are worthless. But the ignorance of the Androidiots seriously makes me laugh. Just take a look at this cute little comment from a reader who commented on MobileCrunch article linked above:

Just another reason I went ANDROID.

There were a handful of comments to this effect, extolling Android for… what? What the hell does any of this have to do with Android? The MicroCell can be used by any of AT&T’s 3G devices on postpaid accounts, including Android phones. It’s amazing how the most uninformed are always the evangelists. They don’t even bother to read the article, they just assume that by attacking AT&T they are attacking Apple by proxy.

Because it is the sole iPhone provider in the U.S., AT&T recieves an enormous amount of scrutiny that the other carriers do not. What many don’t realize is that none of the wireless carriers are angels. I can’t wait until Verizon gets the iPhone so this ridiculous demonization of AT&T stops. Just wait until Verizon sinks its teeth into its new customers.

UPDATE 06/18/2010: Fixed a few typos, made some clarifications, and removed some of my late-night gratuitous snarkiness.

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