AT&T Removes All Remaining Doubt: No Tethering This Year

It seems AT&T is on a quest to cause as much damage as possible to the already flaky reputation it has with its iPhone customers. In an oddly confrontational email to 9to5 Mac, a spokesman for the communications company took issue with one of their recent articles that said AT&T would be delivering tethering services to iPhone customers by the end of the year.

The email, as quoted by 9to5 Mac’s Seth Weintraub, says:

Just reading again – where did anyone promise tethering by EOY? Where did you see that? We promised MMS by end of summer and ended up being a few days late for that…

In their defence, 9to5 Mac was channeling reports from TechCrunch and CNET which got them to arrive at the “before end of year” conclusion. You can hardly blame them — CNET’s headline in November 2008 read “AT&T confirms tethering coming to iPhone in 2009.” That’s pretty unequivocal as far as assertions go, right? Yet, I don’t recall anyone from AT&T sending CNET a snippy email in the interim…

Last week I wrote how AT&T told the Wall Street Journal that it needed ‘more time’ to work on tethering functionality. I also mentioned how AT&T’s CEO Ralph De La Vega said, way back in 2008, that tethering would be available “soon.” A year later it’s not unreasonable to wonder just what De La Vega’s definition of “soon” might be.

Add together the history of dropped calls, patchy 3G coverage and recent reports that the company might start throttling data for iPhone users, the snarky email above only adds to the sorry state of affairs at AT&T. However kindly you may choose to interpret that email, there are countless ways it might have been more professionally composed.

For a company still enjoying exclusive distribution and service rights for the iPhone across America, (and the prestige and profits that partnership with Apple entails) its performance in the last two years can only make us hope Apple is considering offering the iPhone to other cell carriers willing (and actually able) to do the job properly.

In any case, while the email doesn’t specifically deny tethering will become a reality this year, it certainly makes the proposition sound unlikely. AT&T announced last month it is working to expand its network, and have invested heavily in the hardware upgrades necessary to do so. That’s welcome news to long suffering customers, but those upgrades aren’t going to be completed until the end of 2011.

Or, as Mr De La Vega might put it, “soon.”

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