Network Problems? AT&T Wants You To "Mark The Spot"

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Many AT&T customers, including me, have complained about its network. A new iPhone application created by AT&T seeks to answer that criticism. "Mark The Spot" allows users to send the company reports that provide the location where network problems occur. While I'm a little skeptical, AT&T is kind of brilliant to release the app.

I went ahead and downloaded the app, and here are two screenshots:

mark spot pic.PNG

As you can see, iPhone users can report a number of different problems and even characterize the frequency of the problems. The application then uses the iPhone GPS to determine precisely where that problem occurred.

The hope here is that AT&T will gather all of those reports and begin to improve its network accordingly. The data could help a lot. AT&T can use it to determine where poor network coverage is affecting a lot of customers. It can then prioritize the problem areas and help the greatest number of people. While pleasantly utilitarian, it probably won't do much good if you live in a less densely populated area.

And the company will likely get plenty of data. If anyone is likely to be eager to submit lots of feedback, it's iPhone users. As a group, they are heavy smartphone users, so I doubt many will hesitate to try to improve their network now that they have the opportunity to do so. I suspect AT&T will get more information about their network than they probably could ever want or realistically use.

But for just a moment, I have to put on my cynic hat (I like to pretend I take it off sometimes). What if AT&T largely ignores the data, but just introduced the application in order to attempt to satisfy angry iPhone owners? There's a great deal of psychological satisfaction that comes from complaining. Even when issues don't get resolved, the mere act of venting often makes people feel better. Perhaps AT&T figures that even if the changes driven by this application are minimal to non-existent, that doesn't much matter. The app will make the company appear to really care about improving its network while providing users a non-public outlet to complain.

So whether or not AT&T actually makes any network changes, the introduction of this application is a smart move. But here's for hoping the company actually uses the data.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.
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