ATandT Dupes Non-Profits to Support $39 Billion T-Mobile Buyout

News Analysis: AT&T is liberally distributing donations to non-profit organizations and making promises to them about rural broadband Internet service that it likely won't keep to encourage them to say positive things to the FCC about its proposed $39 billion merger with wireless competitor T-Mobile.

One rule of covering the news in Washington is to expect the strange, the weird and frequently, the deceitful. Things are rarely what they seem to be, and motives are rarely pure. In some cases, of course, people and groups with interests before Congress and federal agencies just plain lie. And sometimes they get away with it.

Take, for example, the lobbying that's going on in regard to the Federal Communications Commission's review of AT&T's proposed $39 billion buyout of T-Mobile. Public interest groups of various types are popping up from across the country to back the merger. Some of these groups, such as the Internet Innovation Alliance, appear to represent people with a valid interest in the outcome of the merger. But as I said, in Washington, things are rarely what they appear to be. In this case, the IIA, despite its claims to the contrary, is a front for AT&T.

Of course, the IIA makes a big point of saying it's working to ensure the delivery of rural broadband, a service that's badly needed in the United States. But look a little deeper, and you'll find that the IIA is giving lip service to rural broadband as a way to get farm bureaus and rural health associations on board. AT&T's own congressional testimony about the merger has shown that T-Mobile's wireless services are concentrated in urban areas. AT&T's buyout of T-Mobile will have little effect on whether or not AT&T ever extends wireless broadband services to rural areas.

What they're not telling you is that the new honorary chair of the IIA, former Democratic Congressman Rick Boucher, is now a partner with the law firm of Sidley Austin. Sidley Austin maintains both legal and lobbying offices in Washington. One of the companies that Sidley Austin represents, and has for over 100 years, is AT&T.

In other words, the chair of the IIA is in reality working for AT&T. If you look a little deeper at thealliance's Website, you'll find that AT&T is also a major sponsor of the supposedly independent IIA. In other words, the filings by the IIA and the press call that the group had on June 16 to parade a series of rural broadband advocates before the media were basically a fraud. Boucher's role working for AT&T and AT&T's sponsorship of the organization were not disclosed.

Admittedly, it only took an hour or so of research and calls to people familiar with AT&T's activities to reveal AT&T's deception, but one must wonder how many of the people on that press call knew that they were being set up? Does the South Dakota Farmers Union know that adding T-Mobile to AT&T in the state will have no effect at all due to T-Mobile's limited presence in the state?

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...