Opinion: Why does AT&T have such a bad attitude?

willy-wonka-veruca-saltYou know. Life is so hard for AT&T. I feel for it. It’s really gotten a bum ride. It’s the number one wireless carrier in the United States and the 12th largest company in the country, raking in almost $125 billion in revenue and $20 billion in profits last year alone. It has so much money, in fact, that it decided to buy one of its biggest competitors, T-Mobile, for $39 billion. I mean, why not? It’s okay to want a golden goose, right? 

Of course, it is fine to want things, but why is it that the 12th largest company in America so routinely sounds like a whiny rich girl? Since when did AT&T become Veruca Salt?

T-Mobile brings out the worst in AT&T

On numerous occasions throughout the 2011 T-Mobile merger talks, AT&T has released snide remarks unbecoming of any company, let alone one of the largest in the US. It accused the FCC of being incompetent, found the Department of Justice lawsuit ‘disappointing,’ and often hinted that if the deal didn’t go through there would be big job losses and that it would have to hit its users with much higher prices due to “spectrum crunch.” Half or all of its accusations could be true, but it’s the boldly rude way AT&T has gone about making high profile statements that is continually odd and shocking. 

Just today, on AT&T’s Public Policy Blog, AT&T’s executive vice president of legislative affairs, Jim Cicconi, said that the 1,900 layoffs T-Mobile announced today are the fault of the FCC. AT&T, he argues, would have saved these jobs.

“Normally, we’d not comment on something like this. But I feel this is an exception for one big reason – only a few months ago AT&T promised to preserve these very same call centers and jobs if our merger was approved,” said Cicconi. “We also predicted that if the merger failed, T-Mobile would be forced into major layoffs. At that time, the current FCC not only rejected our pledges and predictions, they also questioned our credibility. The FCC argued that the merger would cost jobs, not preserve them, and that rejecting it would save jobs. In short, the FCC said they were right, we were wrong, and did so in an aggressive and adamant way. Rarely are a regulatory agency’s predictive judgments proven so wrong so fast.”

He goes on to further insult the FCC and say that it should not be “omniscient,” as if it were the only party against AT&T during the merger. The US Justice Department, Sprint, seven states, and even a group of AT&T subscribers all filed suit in opposition to the merger. And regardless…it’s over. It didn’t happen. AT&T is essentially releasing a “gotcha” statement. Worse, it’s one that is entirely misleading. AT&T promised to retain these jobs and certain other jobs if the merger had gone through, but the overall result of combining the two carriers could have resulted in huge job losses in other areas. A combined AT&T and T-Mobile may have had thousands, maybe tens of thousands of redundancies that would have been weeded out. Many people would have been laid off, in this scenario. But hey, even supposing I’m wrong, it’s still unbecoming to release statements like this.

A few other rude statements AT&T has made

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AT&T insults Sprint

When Sprint filed suit to block the merger, AT&T issued this bold statement: 

“This simply demonstrates what we’ve said all along – Sprint is more interested in protecting itself than it is in promoting competition that benefits consumers. We of course will vigorously contest this matter in court as AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile USA will: help solve our nation’s spectrum exhaust situation and improve wireless service for millions; allow AT&T to expand 4G LTE mobile broadband to another 55 million Americans, or 97 percent of the population; and result in billions of additional investment and tens of thousands of jobs, at a time when our nation needs them most.”

AT&T insults Department of Justice

When the US Department of Justice filed suit to block the merger, AT&T issued this statement:

“We are surprised and disappointed by today’s action, particularly since we have met repeatedly with the Department of Justice and there was no indication from the DOJ that this action was being contemplated. We plan to ask for an expedited hearing so the enormous benefits of this merger can be fully reviewed. The DOJ has the burden of proving alleged anti-competitive affects and we intend to vigorously contest this matter in court….”

AT&T insults the FCC

When the FCC opposed the T-Mobile merger, AT&T came out with a half-insulting, but mostly conspiratorial statement

“The FCC has recognized that it is required by its own rules to dismiss our merger application. This makes all the more troubling their decision to nonetheless release a preliminary staff report on the merger. This report is not an order of the FCC and has never been voted on. It is simply a staff draft that raises questions of fact that were to be addressed in an administrative hearing, a hearing which will not now take place. It has no force or effect under law, which raises questions as to why the FCC would choose to release it. The draft report has also not been made available to AT&T prior to today, so we have had no opportunity to address or rebut its claims, which makes its release all the more improper.”

But that wasn’t all. Cicconi weighed in as well:

“We have summarized here only a portion of the infirmities we see in the FCC’s report. We would encourage all observers to read the report itself. We believe that the utter absence of balance is clear, and demonstrates that the document lacks all credibility. The decision to issue such a report that has no legal status, without a vote of the Commission, and in a proceeding that has been withdrawn, was also without precedent, and underscores that this was intended more for advocacy and to impact public perceptions. And neither is a proper basis for action by a regulatory agency.”

AT&T threatens users of future price hikes

att-simpsons-homer-strangling-bartAfter the Web got upset at AT&T’s decision to throttle its users, the company came back with a statement basically arguing that the only way stuff like this won’t happen is if the T-Mobile deal goes through. Yes, really. 

“The bottom line is our customers have options,” said AT&T. “They can choose to stay on their unlimited plans and use unlimited amounts of data, but may experience reduced speeds at some point if they are an extraordinarily heavy data user. If speed is more important, they may wish to switch to a tiered usage plan, where customers can pay for more data if they need it and will not see reduced speeds. But even as we pursue this additional measure, it will not solve our spectrum shortage and network capacity issues.  Nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges.” (My emphasis)

We’re sorry, now get over it

If I were AT&T, I’d be upset that the merger collapsed too. Especially considering that it, for some reason, agreed to pay T-Mobile $4-6 billion if deal didn’t go through, and portions of the precious spectrum it claims is “crunched.” Honestly, based on the company’s snidy attitude alone, I’d deny them, too. AT&T has gotten almost everything it wants, but it couldn’t buy the third largest US wireless carrier. Somebody finally said no.