Shuler Letter Ignores Antitrust Review Process

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-09-19 Print this article Print


In the early days of the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, much was made over the amount of lobbying money that AT&T had to invest, but at the time, it wasn't clear where this money might turn up. The way it normally works in Washington is that members of Congress suddenly turn up taking action in some area where they normally have little or no interest. Shuler, for example, hasn't been very involved in communications policy, except for a letter pushing telecom immunity (which would prohibit suits by people being spied on to find out who was doing the spying). But suddenly he takes a public position opposing actions by his own party, but in the interests of a major contributor. 

But AT&T's influence is clear. The company has been spreading money around to your elected leaders. Interestingly, so has one of AT&T's unions, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, although not to the same extent as AT&T. IBEW has also announced support for the AT&T-T-Mobile merger. 

So how much has AT&T, through its contributions to Shuler and his PAC influenced the Congressman's behavior? It's notable that during the Congressional hearings about the merger, AT&T executives were asked why they hadn't used their existing spectrum to improve service in western North Carolina-Shuler's district-and they responded that they weren't planning to expand service because there wasn't enough revenue potential. I'll be closely following this spectrum stance to see if AT&T changes its stance in view of Shuler's support.

Does Shuler think that perhaps a T-Mobile acquisition will expand coverage in his part of North Carolina? Is that the real price for his support? If so, he's mistaken, as a comparison of T-Mobile's coverage map and AT&T's coverage map of the same area demonstrate. As you'll see if you look at Shuler's district, the two maps are virtually identical. Perhaps this is because T-Mobile has historically had a roaming agreement with AT&T in North Carolina, meaning that their respective coverage would be identical. In other words, if Shuler actually believes this will help his constituents, he's sadly mistaken. 

Likewise, Shuler's stated belief that the AT&T merger with T-Mobile will generate thousands of jobs is suspect, at least. In the past, such mergers have ultimately resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs as redundant positions-and the people who occupy them-are eliminated. While AT&T has promised that it would bring 5,000 call center jobs back to the U.S. if the merger goes through, Sprint and other opponents dispute that promise. The promise also raises the question of why AT&T sent those jobs out of the U.S. in the first place. Incidentally, AT&T is not bound by its promise at this point; it's just a promise with nothing to back it up.

What's unfortunate is that Shuler apparently didn't bother to check the law before making his demands. The Department of Justice can't settle by itself. The federal court that eventually hears the case has to agree to any settlement under Chapter 5 of the Clayton Act, and the chances of that happening are slim. In addition, there's still Sprint's antitrust suit. Sprint has already said that it's not going to settle, ever. So one must wonder, did AT&T get its money's worth with Shuler? Maybe they should have checked how Shuler worked out with the Redskins before throwing good money after bad.


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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