‘Operation Chokehold’: Innovative or irresponsible?

iPhone users to ‘attack’ AT&T on Friday, attempt to bring down the network

iphoneattballchainMuch as I like my iPhone, I am one of many unsatisfied AT&T customers. Oh lords, Verizon is going to love this column.

Even though I patronize them, AT&T has been one of my least favorite U.S. corporate entities for a while. However, they attract my consumer dollar due to the mobility a product like the iPhone affords me, not the imagined status that drove early adopters.

Being essentially connected to the Web via umbilical cord is a big part of my professional life, but I hate working at home all the time. I only purchased an iPhone after realizing my money was completely wasted paying AT&T $70 every month just for a mobile Web connection that was capped at five gigabytes.

On my home connection, five gigabytes is a breeze. I chew up five gigabytes in a couple hours. Is it possible that I could limit my monthly bandwidth to just that? No. A thousand times no.

So I bought an iPhone. I bought it to hack it. Once jailbroken, enabling the Internet tethering feature is a snap and it lets me use the device to project a wifi network almost anywhere I am. From there, connecting with a laptop is a breeze and the service, while slow, is definitely workable in a pinch. A plus: iPhone data plans do not have a cap, so I get to take an even bigger byte off their network, making me a little more comfortable with my investment. By combining voice and data into a single device on a single account, I even saved a little money and AT&T still gets to make a handsome profit off me, with a rate approaching $130 every month.

But it’s truly a shotgun wedding. I harbor a deep mistrust of my carrier much thanks to their participation in the massive NSA wiretapping program. While all the major U.S. telcos took part in the unimaginably massive violation of our privacy, activities within AT&T are particularly well documented. From their “big brother machine” to all the other hair-raising stories AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein told, I’m thinking twice about what I communicate over their network.

Their position on Net Neutrality is also conspicuously evil, in my opinion. They tell the FCC that the principles of Net Neutrality are indeed their core mission, yet actually complying and treating all network traffic equally is just a step too far for them. There’s just too many dollars to be made by creating a super-tier and charging out the ass for access.

Hell of an oxymoron, though. That’s like a politician calling himself a Christian, then voting to kill a million people who never did anything to him. Or a cigarette maker pledging to help cancer survivors, then spending more money promoting stories about corporate compassion than actually gets spent on those their product so injured. Sure, the doublespeak is just so very American, but smart people are not amused.

Recently, an AT&T company executive suggested that its wireless network’s spotty performance was made weaker by iPhone users like me, hogging up bandwidth and degrading the experience for other users. So it seems fitting that “Fake Steve Jobs” would jokingly call for action.

His piece of satire, dubbed “Operation Chokehold,” seems to have taken a life of its own. What he called for is essentially a crowdsourced protest: at noon pacific time on Friday, iPhone users nation-wide will turn off their wifi and pull as hard on their AT&T bandwidth as possible for one hour, theoretically bringing down the network.

In my view, this is nothing less than a new, innovative mode of protest. However, I don’t think it will succeed, which is why I plan on participating.

But in another sense, “Operation Chokehold” has already succeeded.

“We understand that fakesteve.net 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,” an AT&T spokesman said when contacted by Cult of Mac. “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.”

Uh. Right. This whole thing, it caught on because iPhone users are all addicted to Fake Steve. That’s what this is about.

No, nameless spokesthing, it is very amusing. You’ve let this cat out of the bag by legitimizing it with a response. You spy on us. You want to manipulate traffic and tell us how much of the Web we can bite off. Your customer service sucks, your network does not work correctly, your service is unnecessarily expensive and the best thing that’s happened to your corporate outlook in years — the iPhone — is now part of the problem.

AT&T deserves whatever happens on Friday between noon and 1 p.m. PST. While the argument has been made that participating in such an effort is irresponsible — Dave Zatz called it “a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against one of the largest US communications networks” — I disagree.

This is not an attempt at a crowdsourced denial of service attack. This is more like calling in a debt. AT&T may have Luke Wilson talking them up in a series of terrifically lame television ads, but if the company has written millions of checks it cannot cash, it deserves to be humiliated by its users.

And that humiliation deserves to be exploited by its competitors, which it will be if AT&T falters under sway of the services it has promised.

If it works and AT&T staggers and explodes like Alf’s home planet Melmac under the strain of so many hair dryers, Internet freedom activists will write about Friday the 18th for years. It would be the day the Internet told a corporate antagonist to ‘STFU’. It would be beautiful.

It is also highly, highly unlikely. Were it to fail (or perhaps I should say, ‘when it fails’), that in turn proves AT&T is just being greedy by trying to shape network traffic and impose bandwidth caps. iPhone users aren’t really the problem. They’re just scapegoats in a game of corporate posturing ahead of a newly tiered data pricing structure.

It’s as if Enron’s attempt at a bandwidth commodities market never really went away.

So, for one hour on Friday, I hope iPhone users in the U.S. will help send message to AT&T. That message, in my words, is quite simply this: STOP BEING EVIL.

From 12-1 p.m. PST, I’m going to tether my phone to the laptop, navigate to this page and repeatedly stream this video over AT&T’s network:

I hope they’re watching.


The marijuana majority emerges

marijuanagolightToday is a green letter day for drug policy reformers.

According to an Angus Reid poll, 53 percent of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana. A further 68 percent of respondents said that the war on drugs has been a “failure.”

The poll represents a significant leap from an October Gallup poll which found 44 percent in favor of legalization. That’s a nine percent swing in under two months.

While it’s certainly possible the two polling firms’ sampling methodologies would tend to produce differing results, such a disparity is hard to ignore.

It’s not as if a rapid change in favor of legalization is without precedent, according to Gallup’s data. From 2006-2009, support for freeing the weed went up eight percent, from 36 to 44 percent. That rate of opinion growth is faster than any other time since the war on weed was launched. Faster than any time, it seems, but the last two months.

Perhaps a sampling of our own is in order. Care to (anonymously) declare where you stand on pot?

[poll id=2]