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AT&T: New York City "Not Ready" for iPhone


Company website denies coverage for the Big Apple.


Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse. It's almost embarrassing to watch now. Suffering from a brand image more battered and bruised than a has-been prizefighter who doesn't know when to stay down, AT&T (T) adds another mark to its record before ending 2009 in a weary, PR-decimated haze.

The consumer advocacy blog The Consumerist, broke the story of Brooklyn reader Stephen attempting to purchase an iPhone (AAPL) from the official AT&T website -- despite the carrier's notorious and admitted problems with adequate coverage in the New York City area. But before Stephen could find that out on his own, he entered in his Brooklyn ZIP code only to find that AT&T doesn't offer the iPhone in his area.

Stephen tried entering in ZIP codes across the country, all of which brought up the standard iPhone 3GS order page. But residents of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and even parts of New Jersey were presented with the message: "Sorry this Package is not available in your area."

Laura Northrup of The Consumerist confirmed Stephen's tale on her end and contacted customer service to see if this was a bug in the website or an indication of something bigger. Her chat went as followed:

Daphne: Welcome to AT&T online Sales support. How may I assist you with placing your order today?

Laura: Hi, I was looking at the iPhone 3Gs and the system tells me that I cannot order one in my ZIP code. My ZIP code is 11231. (Brooklyn, NY) Is this true? Are iPhones no longer available in New York City?

Daphne: I am happy to be helping you today. Yes, this is correct the phone is not offered to you because New York is not ready for the iPhone.

Daphne: You don't have enough towers to handle the phone.

Laura: Thank you for your help. So the phone is not available to people anywhere in the city?

Daphne: Yes this is correct Laura.

So other than impugning the entire New York metropolitan area as being too technologically stunted, Daphne also tactlessly chose the pronoun "you" to readjust the blame for poor coverage onto the city rather than AT&T itself. In her defense, Daphne is in good company: CEO Ralph de la Vega took that very route earlier this month. (See Why AT&T Is the Biggest Loser of 2009.)

The Consumerist posted an update to the story when AT&T spokesperson Fletcher Cook sent them a written statement saying, "We periodically modify our promotions and distribution channels." Delightfully cryptic, Fletcher.

After the story posted, The Tech Herald contacted other online sales representatives and were given yet another reason: "Due to increased fraudulent activity, the Apple iPhone may not be available to purchase online in certain ZIP codes." Further, the company has informed New York customers that the iPhone is still available to them but they'd need to go to an AT&T store -- which seems to negate the claim that the city wasn't ready for the device.

Apple has yet to officially respond to AT&T's anti-NY tactic, but it's likely none too happy about the cell provider cutting off and insulting the home to four Apple locations and a handful of others in the area. Apple might be busy with the launch of its rumored iSlate tablet computer, but its exclusivity contract with AT&T is always on its mind.

And with every blunder, AT&T piles another straw onto the camel's broken back.

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