Tuesday, April 13, 2021

You shouldn’t have to publicly humiliate AT&T to get usable internet

Earlier this month, Aaron Epstein spent $10,000 to buy an ad in The Wall Street Journal to tell AT&T’s CEO he wasn’t happy with his internet service — service that was limited to a paltry 3Mbps (via Ars Technica). Now, AT&T has him hooked up with a fiber connection, and he’s getting over 300 Mbps up and down. All it took was getting interviewed by Ars, the ad going viral on Twitter, and a Stephen Colbert mention.

In his ad, the North Hollywood, CA resident says he’s been an AT&T customer for 60 years (and backs it up with a @pacbell.net email address), and says he’s disappointed that the company isn’t keeping up with competitors when it comes to his area’s internet. Less than two weeks later, AT&T techs had him hooked up, though the company says it was part of a planned rollout. That’s a statement that may belong in the “dubious” category.

It’s certainly good for Epstein that his ad worked, especially given how much it cost. But it’s been estimated that there are millions of Americans who don’t have access to any access to home internet at all, let alone broadband (which itself is arguably not fast enough), and they can’t all afford ads in the WSJ. Besides, that certainly seems like a trick that would only work once, especially given that it may only work for one household at a time — Ars Technica wasn’t able to get a straight answer about whether Epstein’s neighbors would be getting faster service anytime soon.

Yes, this is a success story: Epstein was able to get AT&T, a goliath telecom company, to install fiber to his house. He even got a call from AT&T CEO John Stankey himself. But even those of us who do have decent internet are struggling with data caps, ISPs that don’t really compete, and don’t even seem to have a clear picture of what their own networks are capable of.

If anything, this story highlights how little power the public has when it comes to their internet access — if you need to have $10,000 to publicly humiliate your ISP, we’re doing something wrong.

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