The Monopoly: AT&T Internet Service
AT&T is one of the defining companies of the last century. Today, it provides multi-channel ‘all purpose’ business solutions by hosting an assortment of smartphones and television services. Founded in the 1880s with roots in the company American Bell, AT&T has recently renovated their internet service by forming a partnership with Yahoo following a transition from longtime affiliate Google. AT&T itself has been recognized as an industry leader in worldwide service providers of IP communications. Their internet service boasts the nation’s biggest and most widely-reaching 4G network which covers almost three hundred million people, making it the largest coverage map of any wireless carrier in the United States with an estimated two thousand more cities under its 4G umbrella than competitors like Verizon.
This behemoth of a company also hosts the biggest Wi-Fi network for Wi-Fi enabled devices. It currently stands at over thirty thousand ‘hotspots’ throughout the nation’s retailers, bookstores, restaurants and hotels, and a recent expansion of 220,000 global hotspots through various trade deals. AT&T internet has spectrum licenses in every state within the United States territory, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. In the latter half of the new century alone, the company has been awarded with CEO of the Year, a number one ranking on the Network World 200 list, Business Week’s inclusion into their Most Desirable Employers list, American Business Awards Information Technology Department of the Year, a GLAAD Award, and several listings as the top company and employer for women and women executives. AT&T itself is a Fortune 500 company under the guidance of chairman and chief executive Randall L. Stephenson, and reportedly earns consolidated revenue of $126.7 billion, qualifying it as the 14th largest company in the world.
Pricing, Plans and Connection Speeds
AT&T internet currently offers five internet plans, ranging from a basic dial-up service to their advanced U-Verse high speed internet plan, which provides a fiber optic network with built-in wireless networking service, compatibility with video chat, streaming video, gaming, movies, large emailing tasks, online meetings, music and television streaming, social networking and webs surfing, in addition to speeds of up to 24 megabytes per second. AT&T’s U-Verse high speed internet plan has its own subset of five distinct packages: Pro, Elite, Max, Max Plus and Max Turbo, between the price ranges of $41 and $66. This range of packages within a single plan varies their internet speeds between the quoted 24 megabytes per second down to five megabytes a second at the lowest pried package.
AT&T internet also offers DSL high-speed internet in certain locations in addition to internet services without phone lines and broadband services via satellite technology, both of which cost around $55 a month. AT&T’s dial-up service may strike modern users as an outdated and outmoded service of the 1990s, but it still provides accessible and affordable internet with for $22.85 a month, with virtually unlimited email storage and parental control options. Their broadband alternatives serve high speed internet for almost twenty million customers, including both wireless and ‘wireline’ mobile broadband subscribers, while their U-Verse plan accommodates users who want to transform their home or office into its own wireless networking hotspot. The company’s wireless broadband reportedly covers almost eighty percent of the population.
AT&T’s 4G LTE has recently expanded in 141 markets, and is projected to cover three hundred million customers by the end of 2014. In addition to smartphone compatibility, the company’s ‘U-Verse’ plan has expanded into a multi-platform service offering mobile support, television, apps, DVR, HD channels, and a variety of Voice Recognition services allowing users to seamlessly interface between their internet and other entertainment venues without changing their service provider or purchasing additional costly technology. The plan also comes with AT&T installation service, wireless gateways, extra wiring and a single HD-ready DVR receiver to connect with your home entertainment system, but its service is currently concentrated in a smaller territory than the rest of AT&T’s services. Their fiber optic U-Verse plan is generally relegated to only twenty two United State regions, including Kentucky, Wisconsin, Texas, Georgia and California.
AT&T offers a variety of incentives to purchase their services, including a standard array of email addresses for each plan purchased, and SpamGuards available to outfit those email accounts with a degree of protection from unwanted bulk. These plans also come with a certain amount of user security, including firewalls and security suites. AT&T’s U-Verse service is prepackaged with spyware and virus protection that can detect, remove and subsequently block out a variety of adware, spyware and virus-ware that threatens the integrity of computers. A two-way firewall protection also conceals computers from prospective hackers looking to steal important private and financial information, and a complimentary McAffee SiteAdvisor tool alerts users to dangerous websites by tabulating a pre-approved algorithm that automatically approves or denies hundreds of thousands of websites. Each AT&T service comes with its own customizable parental control system allowing the parents of younger internet users or monitor the content accessible by their children over the AT&T network. Basic content control functions are also suitable innovations for businesses and other professional services that want to limit the content available to their employees or network, for reasons or liability or employee productivity.
AT&T is currently offering a wide variety of interfacing deals for new customers, incentivizing their wide assortment of services with affordable bundle packages aimed at encouraging new customers to take full advantage of their proprietary network. However, there is a caveat: although this passes on the savings to the customers, the more AT&T property a user acquires the less compatible their services will be with competing brands like Verizon and Comcast. The reasoning behind proprietary service providers offering incentives to surround customers with their brand of internet in addition to their brand of television service, mobile service and phone service comes down to essentially fencing users into their personalized network, giving them better access to AT&T features but also distancing them from competing plans offered by other companies that may better suit their needs. Interested customers are advised to approach any bundled package with a healthy dose of reservation, and a realistic understanding of the future limitations inherent in that package.
Service providers in general do not have a good history with their customers. Customer service watchdog agencies and institutions routinely list internet providers near the bottom of their respective columns, and the AT&T service is no exception. In addition to complaints lobbied against a misrepresentation of internet speeds, AT&T has received criticism for an exaggerated coverage area and unsatisfying customer service. A degree of this is inherent in every service provider, and internet providers in particular (several of AT&T’s comparable competitors, for example, score even lower than AT&T on annual customer service evaluations). A thorough appraisal of this phenomenon will conclude that it’s not dismissive to assume an amount of tension between customers and their internet providers, but nor is it advisable to completely ignore the negative reputations that have followed service providers around like a bad stink.
AT&T offers customers the opportunity to contact them by email, instant chat or through the telephone. Users interested in quick feedback to simple solutions will find a responsive and informative solution through the instant chat features, while email and phone avenues tend to take at least twenty four hours before a proper response is given. AT&T has also automatized a section of their customer support with a ‘virtual expert’ aimed at fielding those ‘FAQ’ questions that would otherwise take up the valuable time of a human employee.
The enormity of the company itself has necessitated some ‘less than popular’ customer service practices, including outsourcing to a number of call centers. While a variety of customer complaints center around this practice, it remains a necessary business practice for companies fielding millions and millions of clients at once. It’s important for users to understand these inevitable shortcomings, and adjust their expectations accordingly. AT&T might not have the best customer service reputation, but their response time is prompt and their controversial reputation is ‘par the course’ for service providers as a whole.
Another controversy involving AT&T’s implementation of bandwidth capping for users is also becoming increasing common among its other competitors. As of May 2nd, 2011, AT&T DSL customers are limited to a monthly ‘cap’ of one hundred and fifty gigabytes of data. This means that users who want to use more data after reaching that ceiling will have to do so under compromise internet speeds, and users who continually overuse the quoted cap are charged ten dollars for every additional fifty gigabytes of data. This is an unpopular practice, but it is also being tentatively adopted by other service providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable (among others). The reasoning behind this provision come ‘costly penalty’ involves a business balance between the high cost of bandwidth and the general data usage of the customers. Together, this process ‘scales’ an appropriate cap limit that will threaten only a small minority of users who exceed the average byte ratio.
Internet service providers are not going to win any awards for customer confidence, but a better understanding of their logics will help to mediate any unreasonable customer frustrations.
There is no question that AT&T is an enormous service provider with a far-reaching coverage map and a variety of affordable services, profitable partnerships and proprietary infrastructure supporting television, mobile devices and internet. AT&T’s speeds are not as fast as some of the more expensive and elite services offered by its competitors, but what they lack in high speed internet they make up for in reliability. Customers who are within range of AT&T’s fiber optic service or DSL internet should be able to rely on the service for intensive gaming and streaming, while rural residents might want to reevaluate their options before settling down onto one of AT&T’s cheaper, slower and more widely available plans.