Some thoughts on Fake Steve Jobs' Operation Chokehold & AT&T FUD

Just to make it clear from the start that as a Canadian (with our own 'give consumers the shaft' problems) I have absolutely no skin in the game that is being affectionate called Operation Chokehold. Now I am not so much concern with the call by Dan Lyons through his Fake Steve Jobs persona but rather the shit storm that has risen up around the idea behind Operation Chokehold.

Back story

This all started back on December 12 when Fake Steve Jobs posted what has to be one of his best blog posts to date. In the post he basically rips AT&T a new one for their ineptitude over the handling of the traffic which the iPhone helped to bring to their wireless network.

The post was sparked by a speech given to investors by the head of AT&T consumer services Ralph de la Vega that put the problems with the AT&T network at the feet of the 3% of iPhone users who are responsible for consuming 40% of of AT&T's network capacity. He followed this up with the suggestion that AT&T might have to consider 'incentives' to discourage this kind of use, never mind that iPhone users pay some pretty hefty bills for the priviledge.

The indomitable Fake Steve Jobs responds

There are so many good parts of this post by FSJ that you should really read the whole thing yourself but when it comes the 3%/40% problem this is what he had to say
So let's talk traffic. We've got people who love this goddamn phone so much that they're living on it. Yes, that's crushing your network. Yes, 3% of your users are taking up 40% of your bandwidth. You see this as a bad thing. It's not. It's a good thing. It's a blessing. It's an indication that people love what we're doing, which means you now have a reason to go out and double or triple or quadruple your damn network capacity. Jesus! I can't believe I'm explaining this to you. You're in the business of selling bandwidth. That pipe is what you sell. Right now what the market is telling you is that you can sell even more! Lots more! Good Lord. The world is changing, and you're right in the sweet spot.

The birth of Operation Chokehold

Needless to say this post rocketed through the blogosphere with general high-fives for FSJ. The response was almost visceral as it seem to give an eloquent voice to the frustration that a very large percentage of iPhone users in the US feel daily.

It was this reaction that lead FSJ to follow-up with a less eloquent post but one that definitely had an idea that ended up finding a life of it's own. It was a simple idea - find a way to allow the average iPhone and AT&T customer to show the telecom giant just how upset they are with what is becoming a necessary service, and one that they are having to paying ridiculous prices for.

Operation Chokehold was born and like the idea itself the object of the operation was a simple one. On a specific day, Friday December 18, at a specific time, 12PM PST, every iPhone user will load up the most data intensive app possible and use it non-stop for one hour. The idea being that this would overload the already poor AT&T network and bring it down.

General reaction

Just as his original post spread like wildfire so did the action oriented idea of Operation Chokehold. In a very short period of time it became the talk of the just about every tech blog and started to gain a foothold in mainstream media as well. It went beyond just the hot air bubble of the tech world as well as a Facebook Event page and Group page have been set up to promote the idea.

Customers are pissed with AT&T and after spending the money they have there is a growing feeling that they are getting screwed, and FSJ tapped into this and gave it a voice - a direction. It is a direction that AT&T doesn't like because it has the potential to affect their bottom line which as FSJ pointed out today in a post is doing exceptionally well while at the same time they have been cutting back on network improvements.

AT&T response

Of course AT&T can't let something like this happen and with surprising speed they began fighting back by calling any action like Operation Chokehold an act of civil disobedience. The kind of acts that could endanger the use of their networks for legitimate and emergency uses. They even went to the extent of calling on the FCC to say something which they did
"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," Jamie Barnett, chief of FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau, said in a statement. "To purposely try to disrupt or negatively impact a network with ill-intent is irresponsible and presents a significant public safety concern."
While AT&T may have been happy to have the FCC act as the heavy when it came to the 'civil' aspects of the effect that Operation Chokehold might have they weren't above trying to deflect the negative attention away from themselves and on to FSJ.
"We understand that is primarily a satirical forum, but there is nothing amusing about advocating that customers attempt to deliberately degrade service on a network that provides critical communications services for more than 80 million customers," a spokesman said in a statement. "We know that the vast majority of customers will see this action for what it is: an irresponsible and pointless scheme to draw attention to a blog."
Not all of the tech blogosphere sided with FSJ as Mashable pointed out in a post
Of course, we should not forget that bringing down a network the size of AT&T could have disastrous implications.
With similar sentiments posted on Crunchgear
Now I'm all for a bit of fun, obviously, but isn't it ironic that this is what passes for political action these days? Our forefathers went to union meetings, we use Pandora all day.

Civil disobedience - when they won't listen any other way

That last line of the Crunchgear post is what really put me off and started this post. Have we become so lazy and willing to accept the whole 'it's just good enough' ethos that seems to permeate the Web 2.0 and social media landscape that the idea of physically doing something to have our dissatisfaction heard and acted on has become something to make a joke about?

That's the joke about social media to a certain extent. We have been lead to believe that by unifying our voices in some electronic space to bring attention to things that are wrong or broken will make corporations and governments listen to us.

The fact is if you look closely it is usually a few practiced individuals who lead these electronic charges of 'outrage'. All social media does is let corporations and governments see who the real voices are and deal with them. Social media allows them to pacify the individuals while the masses go onto the next great misdeed being done.

Yet in this case when truly pissed off people are willing to actually do something that involved some sort of physical act in order to try and get their anger and grievances heard they are being branded as malcontents preaching civil disobedience and made fun of.

If history has taught us anything it is the fact that if you treat people like shit long enough they're are going to start fighting back. Keep treating people like they are some golden goose that will forever keep popping out golden eggs and they'll start throwing real eggs at you. Keep pretending that people are a necessary evil you need to endure in order to keep making your millions and civil disobedience could end up being the least of your worries.

Instead of issuing statements of how wrong it is for people to speak their minds in the only way they have left; because of inaction and malfeasance by greedy corporations, perhaps the FTC should investigate and fix the reasons why people are being driven to this extreme.

Push people hard enough and no amount of poking and tweeting is going to pacify them. Civil disobedience may not be the right answer but sometimes it is the only answer left. In this case AT&T has brought it upon itself and personally they deserve every bit of condemnation they get.