Look for AT&T to run a clinic on the cost-effectiveness of lobbying as it fights to fend off opposition to the $39B acquisition of T-Mobile.
Completion of the merger will provide AT&T and runner-up Verizon “duopoly control” of the wireless market. The AT&T/T-Mobile combo would create a company three times the size of Sprint, the No. 3 wireless company, with more than 80 percent of the market.
Watchdogs, such as the Free Press, have panned AT&T/T-Mobile’s hook-up as a move that will result in “nothing more but higher prices and fewer prices.” Derek Turner, research director of FP, believes transaction of the “newly engorged AT&T and Verizon will exert even more control over the wireless Internet.”
Ma Bell isn't sweating. She oversees a battalion of lobbyists on Capitol Hill who are going to be all over the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Dept, which cleared the Comcast/NBC Universal venture, requiring the tossing of a few bones to critics concerned about minority programming and access.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that AT&T has spent $90M in lobbying outlays since 2005. That’s pocket change for the company, which chalked up $124B in 2010 revenues and cleared a cool $20B in net income.
The Republican-controlled Congress shapes up as another ace in AT&T's hand. The Center reports that key committee chaimen Darrell Issa (Oversight), Fred Upton (Energy and Commerce) and Lamar Smith (Judiciary) have hauled in more than $200K in donations from political action committees from AT&T. That is money that was well-spent.
Upton and Communications subcommittee chairman chief Greg Walden (R-Ore.) have already proved their worth. They issued a statement to say “a proposed transaction of this scale also underscores the importance of the objective review process at the FCC.” Duh! They want to determine “whether the FCC is conducting thorough market analysis and how that influences the agency’s decision-making. We believe such analysis is essential to this and other transactions, and we intend to determine how Congress should reform the FCC’s process going forward.”
In other words, the two anti-regulatory zealots are more intent on gutting the FCC than determining if AT&T/T-Mobile deal is going to squeeze customers. That’s the classic GOP "shock-therapy treatment," a strategy to use a blockbuster event (ATT/T-Mobile) to push a political agenda. The FCC, not AT&T, will be the centerpiece of any scrutiny by Upton and Walden.
AT&T chief Randall Stephenson is one lucky fellow. He has nothing to worry about in Washington, D.C.