Do you know the Fake Steve Jobs? If not, then you may not have heard about his call to arms against AT&T. The Fake Steve, aka Newsweek columnist Dan Lyons, has been railing against AT&T's service for a while now, and on Monday, he urged readers to join “Operation Chokehold,” a digital protest against the potential data price hike that involves overrunning Blue’s 3G network all at once. Fake Steve called on iPhone users nationwide to run bandwidth-hungry apps for the same hour (starting Friday at noon), to flood the system and create a 3G stranglehold.
Is he serious? Probably not. Though not an AT&T fan by any means, he himself calls this “a joke that’s spun out of control.” Yeah, like way out of control. And either way, AT&T is not amused.
BIG BLUE RANKLES THE FAKE STEVE
As I wrote in an earlier post, AT&T was considering á la carte data prices, to curb the behavior of data hogs. According to AT&T’s Ralph De La Vega, only a small segment (3%) of which were responsible for an enormous amount of traffic (40%), and many of them are iPhone users. PhoneDog readers were split on whether this was fair or not, but elsewhere, many people have been irate about the potential increase in subscriber costs, including Fake Steve.
Many iPhone users (a customer segment that was singled out) have long been dealing with less than stellar network performance, including dropped calls and data lags, as well as a delay in releasing MMS and tethering. As if to add insult to injury, they were looking at additional data fees to boot.
Ever since De la Vega's comments went public, there’s been a backlash against the whole idea of forcing customers to cut their data usage. And Fake Steve was among those leading the charge.
F.S./Lyons wrote on his blog:
"An American company creates a brilliant phone, and that company hands it to you, and gives you an exclusive deal to carry it – and all you guys can do is complain about how much people want to use it." (A few days later, Operation Chokehold was born.)
AT&T responded to Chokehold in a statement on Tuesday. According to the Wall Street Journal, the protest is an "irresponsible and pointless scheme to draw attention to a blog." The carrier acknowledges Fake Steve’s satirical bent, but says there is nothing funny about trying to cripple the network: "[It] provides critical communications services for more than 80 million customers." (Lyons’ retort? "Have you read this blog before? Irresponsible and pointless are pretty much all we do around here.")
BLUE, WHY ARE YOU ENGAGING?
AT&T’s reaction to the protest has only drawn more attention to Fake Steve (which is not what it wants), all while making the carrier look unseemly and defensive. And the worst part is that all of this ignores Lyons’ original concern about American wireless networks not being up to snuff for current and future technologies. Smartphone sales are growing, not to mention devices that rely on data networks, like 3G netbooks and maybe even tablets.
But instead of improving its network and service as customer demand increases, Fake Steve believes AT&T focuses more on short-term profits. This was the whole springboard for his rants and the impetus for the prank — the one that he now probably wishes was never conceived.
FAKE STEVE FOLDS
While the big questions get ignored, the whole rest of this mess just came off like petty bickering — that is, until the FCC condemned the stunt. Says Janie Barnett, chief of the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau, to ABC News: "Threats of this nature are serious and we caution the public to use common sense and good judgment when accessing the Internet from their commercial mobile devices."
Fake Steve, who is understandably worried that his prank might land him in jail, followed up by posting this on his blog: "I really don’t want to cause any actual harm to my fellow AT&T users. Quite the opposite — I feel as if we’re all caught in the same horrible prison, suffering alongside one another… The point is, I’m not sure we can stop this thing." He suggests other ways to protest, like iPhone users showing up at a AT&T stores with duct tape over their mouths.
But Chokehold, which boasts 2,000+ members, has taken on a life of its own. Blog commenters have called F.S./Lyons a coward and urge him to stick with the digital activism.
How much damage can 2,000+ angry protesters do to AT&T’s data network? Would it take nothing less than the real Steve Jobs himself to diffuse a mob of angry iPhone users? We’ll find out tomorrow.
UPDATE: It seems AT&T is reconsidering this increase in data pricing, leaning toward positive reinforcement, instead of a negative conditioning. That means there may be incentives for good behavior (instead of penalties for “bad” behavior). I don’t know if Fake Steve had anything to do with that, but I hope Operation Chokehold members get the memo before noon tomorrow. (For more on this, click here.)