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Bad journalism on alleged AT&T metering problems

By 25 March 2011 No Comment

After some people in a discussion forum raised the possibility that AT&T’s new broadband usage meters may be inaccurate, Karl Bode of DSL Reports reported the complaints and then checked with AT&T representatives.  AT&T responded to Bode with the following statement.

“We’re happy to work one-on-one with any of your readers to walk through the measurement tool and address any questions,” AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom tells Broadband Reports. “We’re already addressing ways we can make the labels and information on the online tool more clear for customers between now and May…I can also assure you our team is performing checks everyday to ensure accuracy.”

“Other tools may measure at different 24-hour periods than we do, and most likely do not take into account the standard network protocols (e.g. Ethernet, IP) that are used to provide applications and content to our customers via the Internet,”

It’s one thing if a journalist wants to question a company’s statements, but it’s wrong to twist a company’s words and claim that “AT&T says they’re working on meter accuracy“.  Bode’s portrayal of AT&T’s statements suggests that AT&T is admitting to problems and that they are trying to fix them.  But looking at AT&T’s quoted statements above, it is clear that AT&T did not admit there were inaccuracies.  What AT&T said is that they will look into complaints, they will continue ensuring accuracy, and they explained why users might be getting different measurements.

If users measure a different 24-hour interval than the daily metric shown by AT&T’s usage reports, that will produce daily inconsistencies but it has no effect on the monthly metric which is the only relevant number.  There are no daily usage overage penalties and after I checked AT&T’s usage meter, it only shows previous months and the current month’s running tally.  Based on my own usage of around 50 GBs (which is a few times higher than average), I saw nothing that would indicate any problems with AT&T’s usage meter.

As for the complaint that AT&T measurements include IP and Ethernet overhead, that’s sort of like complaining the supermarket sold you a 10 lb watermelon which included the 1 lb of peel and seeds.  With IP and Ethernet overhead, we’re talking about a difference of 2.4% with large file transfers which makes up the bulk of usage.  Most users aren’t even going to see the difference except for people looking for something to make an issue with.  Broadband transparency is good and these details should be in the terms of the contract, but arcane details like IP and ATM PPPoE overhead probably won’t make it on some “nutrition label” because it’s too confusing and insignificant.

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