AT&T users take sides as Operation Chokehold looms

Operation Chokehold is set to go down within the hour, but it remains to be seen what affect it will have on AT&T’s (NYSE:T) network – if any. Born from a satirical blog post by the “fake Steve Jobs” that was spurred by comments AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vegas made to analysts, the protest has taken on a life of its own.

Newsweek journalist Dan Lyons first suggested that AT&T iPhone users unite today at 3 p.m. EST to bring down AT&T’s 3G network by consuming as much bandwidth as possible for one hour. AT&T then issued a response calling it “irresponsible and pointless,” but the Federal Communications Commission took it a step further, saying it could create a “significant public safety concern” if the network were to come down.

Lyons has since revised his plans for revolt, suggesting iPhone owners’ protest at AT&T stores or turn off their iPhones instead, but it could be too late. Hundreds of users have commented on his blog in support (mostly) of his plan, a Facebook group of more than 4,000 fans has formed in support of it and it is now a popular trending topic on Twitter.

On the flipside, even some consumers quick to admit they are often disgruntled by the iPhone’s service problems have stood up for AT&T. Only 3% of AT&T’s user base – primarily made up of iPhone owners – generates 40% of its data traffic on its high-speed access network, so a concentrated onslaught of iPhone data use would create problems for the rest of AT&T’s users just trying to make a phone call or send a text. An hour of overrunning the network would hurt customers, not just AT&T, or worse cause a serious public-safety threat, as the FCC warns.

That could happen, on the one hand, but on the other – nothing might happen. Or at least nothing that AT&T will own up to. Operation Chokehold could prove to just be a blip on AT&T’s PR radar, but network complaints and issues are far from over. At least maybe until Verizon Wireless gets the iPhone too.

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