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Geeks depart, but AT&T's SXSW coverage sucks

The exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States ought to offer refunds to users of the Apple smartphone who found their phones turned into useless bricks in Austin.

South by Southwest Interactive has turned into SXSW Music. One attendee told me a funny story about watching the revolving door at a downtown hotel as techies were replaced by stereotypical rockers with long hair, beards, and tattoos.

With the exodus of the geeks, I'd imagine that the population of iPhone users in the greater Austin area has declined since AT&T had its widely reported problems over the weekend.

Apparently, there are still too many iPhones in town for AT&T's network to handle the load. On Wednesday, my iPhone was rendered a useless brick for much of the day. I frequently got no data coverage at all, including inside the convention center and several music venues, and several times, I was relegated to AT&T's slower EDGE network instead of the 3G network for which I'm paying close to $100 a month.

I had trouble completing voice calls, and on one, the person on the other end said I was almost incomprehensible because of the warbly modulation. (If you're an iPhone customer, you've probably heard this.) I can't even get the GPS navigation to work, though I don't know if this is related to AT&T or a separate problem.

Regardless, it's not like I'm in the backwoods--Austin's the state capital of Texas, the home of one of the largest universities in the country, and a major tech center.

I imagine that AT&T had to make some concessions to Apple to become the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the United States, such as not being allowed to sell music through its own store.

In the short run, those concessions have probably paid off, as millions of customers switched from other carriers just to get an iPhone. But unless AT&T steps up its coverage sometime in the next six months, it is going to have a huge wave of cancellations when those two-year contracts end in late 2010.

Here's hoping that the company starts to make good by offering partial refunds to anybody with an iPhone and an SXSW badge.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that Apple's contract with AT&T is coming up for renewal sometime soon. I hope that it takes these complaints to heart.

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