Tuesday, May 3, 2011

AT&T Proves that the Internet is Old

First came Living Social. Then Groupon popped up out of nowhere.

Many startups followed.

Following the failed purchase of Groupon for $6 billion, Google decided to start their own.

Facebook jumped on the bandwagon last month.

Now, AT&T’s joining the game, because that’s what they do.

It’s a big trend going on right now. So what’s the business that’s grasped the Internet by its Rocky Mountain oysters?


That’s right, coupons. The same things that your grandma used to drive you crazy with at the checkout line of the grocery store. The same things that save you 29 cents on toothpaste. Those things that you get in the mail all the time, even though you never signed up for them.

(My favorite one is the Money Mailer, which states on its cover that “It’s like getting money in your mailbox!” Each time I get this thing, I state, “It’s like throwing money in a trash can!” and promptly chuck it into the nearest dumpster.)

Yep, the Internet is officially elderly, as we’re all clamoring for coupons that will get us $10 off at a store or restaurant, a free pedicure with purchase of a manicure, or something completely inane like a helicopter ride.

But what really seals the deal for the aging Internet is AT&T. Formerly known as Ma Bell, this company was ancient in the 60s. They became so large, so powerful, that the federal government had to split them up, but like the asshole cop in Terminator 2, blasting AT&T to pieces just caused the disturbing globs of mercury-like liquid to slide back together again to re-form the same asshole cop.

AT&T and I go way back. We have an on-and-off-again relationship; sometimes I like them, and sometimes I want to strangle them with their own spirally telephone cord. They had my business in the days before cell phones, providing me with an affordable landline. Then the prices went up—way up—and I jumped into the cell phone scene, cutting off my land line like a leeching friend...

...and straight into AT&T’s lap, as it were. At the time the service was called Cingular, but less than 3 months after signing up, Cingular was flattened like its mascot to make way for the AT&T juggernaut.
For six years I held their cell phone service because I refused to get a smart phone until the service was affordable, and in the meantime, moved into an apartment with my future wife. Determined to stay far, far away from Comcast, we signed up for a local cable service called AmericaOne. It was bad, but cheaper than Comcast by far, and the Internet connection rarely dropped. Six months later, AmericaOne sent me their last letter, informing me that they would henceforth be known as AT&T.

We moved out of that apartment after another year and a half and into a complex that only served Comcast cable—and no satellite dishes! Eager to drop AT&T, I sold my soul and gave Comcast a valid credit card. The road with them has been rocky, but even when AT&T employees came directly to my door once their cable service became available in my area, I resisted the urge to set fire to my $7-a-month Comcast cable modem. I refused to be stuck with the ancient behemoth again.

During this time I washed my cell phone. Actually, I’m amazed that I had never done this before, but the thing was dead. It was my chance to get away from AT&T for good. I dropped their cell service and picked up an unlocked G1, took it to T-Mobile and had it set up for service with no contract. No problems.

Three months ago, as I logged in to pay my T-Mobile bill, I was greeted by a giant banner that said simply “AT&T to acquire T-Mobile USA.” Really? REALLY?! Come on!

Now, never to be outdone, and without the ability to be too big and too old, AT&T’s jumped into the group coupon scene. I swear, if online Bingo was the next big thing, they’d still be late to get involved, but they’d dump an insane amount of money into it.

The Internet is old, and it’s being stalked by this enormous, ancient, creepy-old-man equivalent of a media conglomerate. I have half a mind to file stalking charges against them. Right after I finish my online Scrabble game and watch my stories on Hulu.

[UPDATE MAY 5, 2011]: AT&T was camped out at the front gates to my complex today handing out "free breakfast." They were offering a choice of either orange or prune juice, granola bar or apple, and fruit snacks or raisins. And of course, every bag comes with breakfast spam as well.

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