AT&T continues to threaten cities with lawsuits unless given what they want

August 30, 2014
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As this site has mentioned a number of times, it is rather unbelievable to see internet service providers (ISP’s) continue to pass on wiring a large portion of the country yet then object to residents in those areas wanting to pay for fast internet themselves. Granted, the ISP’s make sure to receive all the tax benefits from those areas whether they are wired or not.

Whenever a major ISP is entering a new market, they scream about needing a “level playing field” yet they turn around and do everything they can to make it as difficult as possible for competitors to enter those same markets.

AT&T can be seen as a prime example of a company who likes to cry about that “level playing field” yet turn around and threaten that area with a lawsuit if the city doesn’t give AT&T whatever it wants.

  • When citizens in Georgia were tired of having JUST 3 Mbps connections through AT&T DSL with no alternative, AT&T tried to ban competition by claiming that the “rules of the road should be fair.”
  • When AT&T didn’t want to compete in Wisconsin, they lobbied politicians to try and pass legislation which banned such competition. AT&T whined about fairness and claimed that this bill was just “fiscal responsibility.”
  • When AT&T’s state contract with Mississippi was coming to an end and a number of school districts in Mississippi were complaining heavily about the poor service that AT&T was giving them, AT&T simply got the state government to extend the state contract WITHOUT competitors even having a chance to bid. Oh, and the contract is hidden from the public.

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When politicians are trying to push through anti-municipal broadband bills and are also accepting donations from the corporate-funded groups, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, should we be surprised when the politicians screw the public for financial purposes?

“Whatever happened to localism or local control? This amendment means the federal government will tell every local citizen, mayor, and county council member that they may not act in their own best interests. Any such amendment is an attack on the rights of individual citizens speaking through their local leaders to determine if their broadband needs are being met.” - Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), The Hill

Now, we have another shining example of how AT&T deals with local/state governments that are not playing ball with them.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, State Sen. Janice Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, Tennessee, put forth a bill in Tennessee which would expand a cities ability to offer broadband when an ISP was not servicing that same area.

Bowling had this crazy idea due to many of her rural constituents having little to no service from commercial providers, like AT&T and Charter. Meanwhile, a municipal broadband program would offer her constituents speeds about 80 times faster than AT&T and 10 times faster than Charter.

“We don’t quarrel with the fact that AT&T has shareholders that it has to answer to,” Bowling said with a drawl while sitting in the spacious wood-paneled den of her log-cabin-style home. “That’s fine, and I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.” - Janice Bowling, Center for Public Integrity

Bowling eventually met the state’s three largest telecommunications companies in AT&T, Charter, and Comcast and was pushed to kill the bill.

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After Bowling refused to kill the bill, AT&T decided to tell Bowling how they would approach the situation if she did not do what AT&T wanted:

Bowling, described as “feisty” by her constituents, initially beat back the effort and thought she’d get a vote. That’s when Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T’s Tennessee operations, leaned toward her across the table in a conference room next to the House caucus leader’s office and said tersely, “Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation,” Bowling recalls. The threat surprised Bowling, and apparently AT&T’s ominous warning reached her colleagues as well. Days later, support in the Tennessee House for Bowling’s bill dissolved. AT&T had won. - Janice Bowling, Center for Public Integrity

Or how about we ask a local mayor who found his residents to be extremely under-served by the incumbent broadband providers:

When Tullahoma began planning its fiber optic network in 2004, “it got unpleasant real fast,” said Steve Cope, who was mayor at the time. “When you get into broadband you begin stepping on the toes of some of the big boys, the AT&Ts and Charters of the world. They don’t want the competition, and they’ll do anything to keep it out.” - Center for Public Integrity

As the Center for Public Integrity noted, restrictions are routinely put on the current municipal broadband programs which make those programs all but guaranteed to fail. For example, in a number of states, local incumbent providers get laws passed which force the municipal program to sign up an unrealistic percentage of the population within a short period of time or else the entire thing will be scrapped.

When Kansas was considering an extremely restrictive municipal broadband bill, politicians used language written by the state’s lobbying group who had members such as Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable.

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Basically, AT&T wants a free-market system that is free when it helps them and completely restricted when it hurts them. That is why they spent money on hiring 15 lobbyists in the state of Tennessee alone. In Tennessee, AT&T’s giving in the 2014 election cycle was more than $370,000, almost five times what it was in 2000.

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