Lies, Damned Lies, and Coverage Maps

Oddly enough, Verizon Wireless's latest round of AT&T/iPhone-bashing ads-one of which relegates the iPhone to the Island of Misfit Toys-haven't made AT&T any happier than the earlier spots did. It's updated its legal complaint against Verizon to gripe about the new ads, and wants the court to force Verizon to pull them off the air. It's also published a statement on its Web site which it says "sets the record straight" about Verizon's commercials.

I like the idea of AT&T responding to Verizon's ads in a straightforward and factual manner, but the statement is kind of disappointing-it says that Verizon's ads are "false and misleading" and then points out that almost all AT&T customers have access to the slower EDGE network, and enumerates various virtues of AT&T's network and devices (the speed of its 3G network, the popularity of its phones, the quantity of apps, the fact you can talk and do data at the same time). But it doesn't ever make clear what Verizon said that AT&T considers to be untrue, and it brings up various points that Verizon never mentioned one way or another. Basically, it's less of a response to Verizon's ad and more of a laundry list of reasons to like AT&T.

The 26-page legal filing makes the case against Verizon more cogently, albeit at far greater length. (So does this AppleInsider post.) I get, for instance, why AT&T is annoyed about Verizon's new "Blue Christmas" ad, which seems to depict an AT&T customer as being completely unable to use his phone. Lack of 3G coverage isn't the same thing as lack of coverage, period; the guy should still be able to make calls and access the Internet, albeit at a speed which may make him gnash his teeth.

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Well, I'm not entirely sympathetic: I use an AT&T iPhone a lot in non-descript urban settings around San Francsico (especially in the SOMA neighborhood) and sometimes I can't get the phone to work reliably at all, let alone at 3G speed. (The lobby of the Courtyard Marriott at Second St. and Folsom is an amazing Bermuda Triangle when it comes to AT&T reception.) There are times when my iPhone's data connection is delightfully zippy, but there are also times when I identify with the "Blue Christmas" dude.

And isn't a Verizon ad that accentuates the negative when it comes to AT&T coverage pretty much just the downbeat flipside of this AT&T ad, in which Bill Kurtis seems to suggest that he'll have ready access to AT&T 3G as he travels cross-country in a sidecar? He better avoid small towns and steer clear of back roads-and even then, he's going to spend an awful lot of time on sluggish old EDGE.

One other thing: AT&T thinks that the coverage map in Verizon's ad is misleading. Which may be a defensible position. But AT&T's own site both brags about the speed of its 3G and provides a data coverage map that doesn't distinguish between 3G and EDGE coverage. (It does provide a guide to 3G coverage, but only in the form of a list of cities that have it.)

In other words, if you're a consumer trying to come to conclusions about AT&T's data network, neither the Verizon map nor AT&T's own map tells you everything you need to know. Both emphasize the part of the story that makes the carrier who prepared the map look good.

A modest proposal: Maybe the phone industry can get together and agree on a standard for coverage maps that emphasizes useful information for consumers and which doesn't have any particular agenda? Many of the maps I've seen over the past decade have been incomplete and/or confusing even when nobody's been suing over them...

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