'Operation Chokehold': iPhone Users to Protest AT&T Today

More than 4,000 join Facebook page to back iPhone users' protest against AT&T.

December 18, 2009, 12:04 PM

Dec. 18, 2009— -- Hours before iPhone users plan to take down AT&T's wireless network in protest, the man who set the plot in motion is urging the digital activists to take their demonstration to the streets.

On Monday, Newsweek reporter Daniel Lyons, who writes the popular blog, "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs," posted a satirical memo encouraging iPhone owners to participate in "Operation Chokehold."

Writing as "Fake Steve," he told iPhone users to voice their dissatisfaction with the performance of AT&T's wireless network by running the phone's most data-intensive applications at the same time -- 3 p.m. ET Friday -- in an effort to "overwhelm the AT&T data network and bring it to its knees."

Many owners of Apple's iPhone -- which is only available with AT&T data and voice plans -- have become annoyed with dropped calls and slow data speeds, which they blame on what they feel are inadequacies in AT&T's network.

"Send the message to AT&T that we are sick of their substandard network and sick of their abusive comments," Lyons wrote. "The idea is we'll create a digital flash mob."

Lyons posted his "memo" after recent comments from an AT&T executive revealed that the company is considering incentives to keep so-called "bandwidth hogs" from jamming the network with video and other data-hungry applications.

Though it started as a joke, the stunt has taken on a life of its own, as blogs, Twitter users and media reports have spread the word. A Facebook group now counts more than 4,000 people as fans of "Operation Chokehold," and a Web site provides tips and a countdown to the hour of reckoning.

The spoof campaign even drew the attention of federal regulators, who called the protest "irresponsible" and a public safety concern.

This morning, "Fake Steve" delivered some final thoughts to his comrades, emphasizing that "Operation Chokehold" was intended to be a joke and will likely not work. Still, he encouraged his fellow iPhoners to follow through on the plan and escalate their efforts with demonstrations outside AT&T stores.

"This may be cathartic, but it is pointless," he wrote on the blog today, adding that "Operation Chokehold" has already drawn attention to the issues and a few thousand people will likely not make an impact on the network.

But in the same digital breath, Lyons urged protesters to take the fight off-line.

"What we need to do now is amplify the story, and physical protests are the way to do it. Here's why. CNN can't cover something that's happening on a bunch of fiber optic lines. They can't take pictures of that. But they can take pictures of people standing outside a store," he said. "Doesn't have to be a lot of people. Just a few is enough, and then the TV networks can attach a photo to the story, which is what they need."

'Three Musketeers' Launch Facebook Page, Web Site

The Facebook page and Web site were created to mobilize the grassroots effort by a trio of iPhone-using friends, who call themselves the "Three Musketeers." They believe that the Facebook fans represent only part of the iPhone users who plan to participate today.

"There's definitely a lot more people," said Peter Serven, 21, a Web designer who created OperationChokehold.com. "There's 4,000 people on the Facebook page, there's a ton more that aren't who are going to participate in the protest."

He said the campaign has gained traction because iPhone users are upset about "subpar" service and hints that AT&T might raise their rates for those who use more bandwidth.

Still, despite the stunt's publicity and online support, he doesn't think that they will ultimately make even a dent on AT&T's network.

"I don't think anybody really thinks it's going to do anything to AT&T's system," he said. "But it's already done what it was meant to do -- it's humiliated AT&T somewhat and brings [the issue] to the light of day."

For its part, AT&T is none too happy with "Fake Steve's" campaign and the attention it's getting.

"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 spokeswoman 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."

Earlier this week the FCC said the protest could be a threat to public safety, blocking AT&T users who might need to call 911.

"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."

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