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

August 30, 2014

FCC-lobbying-illustrator

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.

Comments

  • Nagasaky2x

    If only they used their money to improve their services instead of sueing everyone… it almost the same in every place in the world, here in Spain too.

    • MasterMuffin

      Definitely not like this in Finland

      • Nagasaky2x

        Here in Spain they keep fighting because they are starting to introduce fiber, and they want that one company introduces it everywhere and then share it with every other one. They cry and cry and this last years they are starting to introduce it by themselves. We do have pretty shitty speeds here, I have a great fiber connection but I have a lot of friends who can’t go over 3MB.

        Now they’re trying to make a US-like situation with less carriers that may change that but the carriers don’t want to (they wouldn’t get the roaming extra). I suppose some places are way better than others (like you said, northern europe has a much better situation than southern europe). I pay 65€ for 100/10 speeds where our salaries are like 800€ with luck (normally you top at 600€ unless you have worked many years).

        • MasterMuffin

          I believe 100/100 speed is 40€ here :P Of course the salaries are much higher here too. What’s the unemployment rate in Spain, 25% or more?

          • Nagasaky2x

            25.1% was in april this year, but I’m pretty sure many of them are working without a contract with salaries around 300€. We do have a really bad situation here as everything keeps going towards european prices while the salaries didn’t move too much (600€ in 2008, 645€ in 2014). In the meantime, carriers tend to favour the new clients (giving them things like 6 months 50% discount) while old clients get nothing, and for example I don’t have any alternatives right now, as ONO is the only one giving fiber in my urbanization and it’s between 100/10 from ONO, or 3/1 from other ones who still use the copper pair. I’m eager to see what happens with Vodafone’s purchase of ONO as I’m seeing 100/10 + SIM with 800MB data & 200 minutes for 55€.

          • MasterMuffin

            I hate it when carriers give new customers all these deals and the old loyal customers get nothing!

            As long as you can avoid going as bad as Greece, everything will probably go fine :)

        • Pawel C

          I pay Comcast $97.00 for 58/12 so-called High Speed Boost Internet

          • Nagasaky2x

            At least, I suppose your salary is higher. Here, if you want to get high speed connection (over 50MB), you have to pay around 10% of the minimum salary.

            Anyway, they want to maximize their income and they don’t care about the customer or their employees. Here, Movistar fired a lot of employees because they said they couldn’t keep them, while they still had quite a big amount of benefits. They fired 20% of the personnel (around 6.000 employees) in 2010, where they had 10.167 million € of benefits, and they gave around 240.000 euros to each executive. They said they had to fire them because their benefits fell from 5.019 million to 4.412 million.

          • smokebomb

            Same problem in east side Seattle. $80 for 25/15 with Comcast.Such a fucking rip off. And of course, since it’s the U.S., there’s no competition so I don’t get a choice.

    • Will S.

      Carriers suck here in the UK too, but from what I read, they are not as bad and influential as American carriers.

      • Nagasaky2x

        I don’t know the “home” situation, but at least in the mobile side you do have companies like Giffgaff that give unlimited mobile data (although I suppose it’s not as unlimited as they say). Here in Spain we don’t even have unlimited plans, no matter how much you pay, they even tried to take them out from home contracts so you would have to pay if you go over a certain amount of traffic (and I would burn through it as I have GB of traffic everyday in my computer).

        • Will S.

          Ooh I didn’t know it was that bad. Is Telefonica bad in Spain? They own O2 (terrible network) and GiffGaff too over here… And yep, GiffGaff & Three UK are the only 2 that give unlimited data, and it’s truly unlimited!

          • Nagasaky2x

            Telefonica (now Movistar) had the monopoly in Spain (as they inherited the public copper pair that the government made a lot of years ago), and as it was the oldest one, many people just wanted it because of it. So, Movistar was the one establishing the prices, and they had to sell their network to others so the other carriers had to pay to Movistar, so they couldn’t move too much. Anyway, as most people here grown up with Movistar, they didn’t trust others, this is changing lately because of the prices and now Movistar is making the move as it was losing customers at a very high rate. This regarding the home situation.

            In the mobile situation, we have 4 major carriers: Movistar, Orange, Vodafone and Yoigo. Then we have virtual carriers, that rent the major carriers their coverage, for example I use Pepephone, which uses Vodafone’s coverage, and I pay 8.34€ for 1.2GB data (no minutes or SMS included, they are paid as you use them). Right now, no carrier (neither virtual or real) give unlimited data. They give “unlimited” minutes (not really, they actually got sued multiple times as they were not really unlimited, they just gave a lot of them, like 1200 minutes), and unlimited SMS (some of them), but nothing about data. Moreover, only the 4 major ones have 4G, they don’t rent it for the virtual carriers.

            Well, actually, we do have “unlimited data”. Some carriers give you a certain amount of MB full speed (for example, Movistar gives you 500MB), but when you use those MB, they throttle you to low speed (and low is LOW, 128kbps and even less sometimes). Actually, Movistar states that they reduce their speed to 16 kbps/8 kbps when you use your data plan contracted MB.

      • smokebomb

        Your government decided that only having 2 providers was detrimental to competition. Here, competition is detrimental to the bottom line and thousands in bribes make the politicians agree. Stick with your gov.

  • Major_Pita

    AT&T – time to break those assholes up again. Can’t say that Verizon is much better than them though after the crap they’ve been pulling while ‘wiring’ the eastern regions. Maybe after their willful interference with the democratic representation of the citizens in these states they should be officially declared ‘Enemies of the State’. Somebody call Homeland Security.

    • Michael Samsara

      I am surprised that Senator Bowling didn’t scream bloody murder when she was threatened by AT&T. How brazen can they get in their pursuit of their wanton corporate greed? You are right – time for another breakup.

      • Nate Fredricksen

        I think we should let them all merge into a Mega-corp, overthrow it epicly, and then make a movie/game about it.

        • Michael Samsara

          Capitalism – if not hamstrung by 800 pound gorillas such as AT&T or Verizon who, having gotten so big that they feel themselves beyond the grasp of needing to care about peoples’ needs – would lay waste – through competition – these types of avaricious efforts to keep out competition that might inconvenience and cause them to actually supply quality service.

          Sadly, this is exactly the type of wanton behavior that ultimately leads to another breakup – guess they didn’t learn their lesson the first time.

    • Heimrik

      Homeland Security actually has a home office built in to AT&T headquarters. AT&T wants total global domination. They want the whole world to go through them for all communications and they’re very close to achieving that now….

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  • Reudig

    i live in graz … an Austrian city with about 270 000 residents … i get 75/7.5 internet (+ 125 tv channels) for 40€ a month …
    there are 2 or 3 companies that offer internet in the area too, but only up to ~ 20/2 … but they cost the same …

    internet business indeed is strange – very strange – business…

  • Dee Norbert

    1Gbps 17$ Romania

    • smokebomb

      Most of the developed world pays less for faster internet than the U.S.

  • shaven

    I used to work as a contractor at ATT and it would make new sick to see employees sip wine at 4pm on Fridays, because I know how many of their customers are simultaneously getting screwed.

    If a were making laws, I would totally break up ATT. They suck so bad right now and they don’t want capitalism any longer. When a paid lobbyist for ATT implies a threat to sue to kill a bill which will help US citizens… all so that ATT can keep their 4pm Friday wine parties, we no longer live in a free nation. ATT is a bully that needs to get two black eyes and a fat lip so they learn their lesson. But even govnt can’t deliver this as shown in this article of how ATT won. It will require the people to bind together to fight a battle to the death against ATT. I will fight. I despise that wretched monster.

    • Jerry Rich

      As you know it’s deja vu all over again as AT&T was forced in 1982 to break itself up into smaller companies. The AT&T of the 1980’s was similar in a lot of ways to what we have now. Unfortunately in todays world, the corporations have successfully bought off the politicians. Unless the love affair in Washington with corporate donations changes, it will never happen.

      • smokebomb

        “Donations.”

    • smokebomb

      It’s not that government can’t fix it. It’s that they like their bribe money, and won’t.

  • mrjayviper

    so how is this android/mobile/google news?

  • Harry

    lobbying is simply an ugly word for corruption :). Only, the rich and powerful gain from it. Why is it legal simply because it is disclosed?

    • retrospooty

      Put simply, the people that would need to be the ones to vote against it are the ones financially benefiting from it. It’s a perfect system.

  • Anothermuse

    The only reasons a telecom should not want a government run utility to go in to an area would be:
    1. Unfair pricing or subsidies that would artificially lower costs that private company could not compete with
    2. If the government utility created an “exclusive” zone that private companies were not allowed to compete in with similar service.

    If these two elements don’t exist then the private company has nothing to be concerned about. Most government run utilities are awful because they are politically driven and the agencies don’t have the know how to execute them well. They also end up being money pits for constituents. However there are exceptions to this and if there is not an unfair advantage, then the municipal groups should be competing along side the private companies.

    In telecom for some reason, monopoly is the rule of thumb. There is no genuine competition in 95% of the country in home cable. And quite frankly if there were, Comcast’s infrastructure has such a huge advantage that the others would be out of business in a decade. It does require huge amounts of capital to build networks, so this will be dominated by the mega corps, but these little stunts by the telecoms should result in spankings and the company’s sent home without dinner.