'Operation Chokehold': Did iPhone Protest Against AT&T Succeed?

iPhone users share protest's progress online, AT&T said no impact.

December 18, 2009, 12:04 PM

Dec. 18, 2009— -- At high noon Pacific time, iPhone users across the country pulled out their big guns in a coordinated protest against AT&T.

To sound off against what they say is inferior service, thousands of iPhone users planned to use their most data-intensive applications during the same hour to crash -- or at least cripple -- the company's wireless network.

The campaign started as a joke earlier this week, when 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."

But the stunt grew into something of a grassroots campaign, as blogs, Twitter users and media reports spread the word. A Facebook group for the protest attracted more than 4,000 members and a Web site gave "Operation Chokehold" a dedicated online presence.

So did it work?

Well, it's hard to tell.

On Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, iPhone users documented the protest's progress, letting others know that they were streaming data-hungry YouTube videos, Pandora songs and more.

But results were mixed. Some users reported slow download speeds and difficulty accessing the 3G network. But others said they had no problems at all.

The founder of the Facebook page and Web site, Peter Serven, a 21-year-old Web designer from San Antonio, Texas, said it was a huge success.

"The goal is to send a message to AT&T," he said. And, noting a steady stream of Facebook comments from protest participants and a spike in traffic to the campaign's Web site, Serven added, "It was a pretty strong message."

But when contacted by ABCNews.com, AT&T had just this to say: "We saw no impact."

'Fake Steve': Create Digital Flash Mob

It all started Monday, when "Fake Steve" 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. That, he said, would "overwhelm the AT&T data network and bring it to its knees."

"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."

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 inadequacies in AT&T's network.

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 "Operation Chokehold" started as satire it took on a life of its own, eventually drawing the attention of federal regulators, who called the protest "irresponsible" and a public safety concern.

"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."

AT&T also spoke out against the campaign.

"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," a spokesman said in a statement.

But Serven said that the ultimate goal of the campaign was to make AT&T realized that iPhone users are a force to be reckoned with. And on those terms, he said he thinks "Operation Chokehold" succeeded.

"I think there's lots of fired up iPhone users out there and they're ready to keep making their voices heard," he said.

He said the ball is now in AT&T's court and if they don't start addressing users' concerns, "I think they can expect more of the same."

"I think iPhone users are some very interesting people. They're very creative and expressive and vocal," he said. "I will be interested to watch what happens next."

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