AT&T's 'cease and desist' threat: PR gaffe or clever plan?

Perhaps AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson wanted to reduce email so as to keep with new limits of wireless data plan

The Internet is ablaze with criticism of AT&T for threatening a soon-to-be ex-customer not to send any more complaint emails to the company's CEO Randall Stephenson. Critics are quick to judge the move as an awful PR gaffe, particularly in an age where reports of astoundingly shoddy acts of customer disservice can spread via the Internet faster than rumors of what color the next iPhone might be (spoiler: white!).

However, I'd like to suggest that perhaps AT&T had a perfectly valid reason for threatening customer Giorgio Galante with a cease-and-desist letter after, per his claims, he sent a whopping two complaint emails (both relatively short and politely worded) to Stephenson in the span of two weeks: In preparation for AT&T's abandonment of its unlimited wireless data plans, Stephenson needs to reduce the number of email messages he picks up on his iPhone or iPad so as to keep his monthly bill down.

[ Also on Infoworld.com: How AT&T is spinning its iPhone sales. | Get the best iPhone and iPad apps for pros with InfoWorld's business iPhone and iPad apps finder. | See which smartphone is right for you in our mobile "deathmatch" calculator. ]

In case you missed it, AT&T announced this week that it's putting an end to its unlimited wireless data plan, through which customers could pay a flat monthly fee to enjoy all-you-can-eat Internet access on their mobile devices, including watching videos, browsing Facebook, reading the news, and of course, checking email.

In its place, AT&T will offer two plans. Through the DataPlus plan, which will cost $15 per month, users get 200MB worth of data transfer. If you exceed 200MB, you're billed another $15. The second plan is called DataPro, which runs $25 per month and gives you 2GB worth of data transfer. If you go over the limit, you pay $10 per extra gigabyte of data.

Suppose you're a busy CEO. You're often on the go, yet need to keep in touch with your colleagues and stockholders via email. You have to keep up on the news and what you're competitors are doing. It's no problem, because you have an unlimited wireless data plan. But what happens if, suddenly, your provider tells you that it's eliminating that unlimited plan entirely and offering plans in its stead that won't always meet your monthly needs?

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