New AT&T Same As The Old AT&T

    June 5, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

AT&T chief Ed Whitacre is out, retired, ready to sit back and enjoy his golden (and I mean golden) years. As of yesterday, he’s replaced by SBC front-man Randall Stephenson, a 25-year company man, and a man after Whitacre’s own heart.

New AT&T Same As The Old AT&T
New AT&T Same As The Old AT&T


The quote attributed to Ed Whitacre was intended as a parody, but it was not immediately clear at the original source that it was a satirical take on the issue.  Our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Go ahead and change all the indefinite articles in the preceding sentences to "the." In his new position, Stephenson is officially incarnated as the Man, in all his inglorious, deep-pocketed, well-connected fury.

He looks mild-mannered enough, a real Company Joe, polished, conservative, well-coifed. But if you thought a younger, more with-it CEO was a remedy to the heavy-handedness with which the telecom giant handles its bidness, think again.

And judging from Om Malik’s interview, Stephenson paid a lot of attention to his PR team on word choice, spin, and how to answer questions without answering them.

I especially like this quip:

The new AT&T is a 6-month-old company with a 130-year legacy of innovation and reliability behind us.

Now that’s quality spin.

Or when asked why AT&T would embrace another company’s product like iPhone, Stephenson answers:

The iPhone is a radically innovative new device and it only makes sense that AT&T and Apple would partner to bring it to market. This device is very important to us, it’s important to Apple and it is going to do very well with customers.

Translation: The iPhone will make us a lot of money.

But what was noticeably lacking from Om’s interview were questions regarding Net Neutrality to settle whether Stephenson would be as hard-line about his company’s "pipes" as his predecessor.

But wait, you say, because you’ve been following this for a while now and you’re an astute observer with BS detectors set to highest sensitivity. Didn’t AT&T agree to Net Neutrality principles late last year in order to get their merger with Bell South approved?

Yeah, they sort of did, but that was akin to telling a cop you’ll slow down if he just gives you a warning. The agreement to adhere to Net Neutrality principles had no teeth whatsoever. 

Stephenson too has echoed Whitacre, even if less abrasively. Nice move on AT&T’s part, swap out the curmudgeon for Chief Silver Tongue. Stephenson says "the content guys will have to make a deal with us," and complains about the amount traffic YouTube and Google are "dumping" onto the network.

But again, there’s no mention of how Google pays for the bandwidth they use already, or of how a tiered Internet, – where not just Web services providers, but also content providers and access subscribers pay – will create tollbooths at every turn…just like cable, just like mobile phones with the 7000 percent markups on simple services like text messaging.

You see, it’s a stockholder thing, a money thing, and if the free and open Internet has to be destroyed to achieve that, so be it. AT&T says it’s about creating incentive to invest – as if controlling the last mile of fiber wasn’t incentive enough – but, as we’ve noticed in light of the company’s backpedaling on Net Neutrality, what they say isn’t always what they mean.

Just to ice this off, notes Stephenson’s position as the Vice Chair of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), his close relationship with the White House, and his personal donations to an all-star anti-Net Neutrality roster of Congressmen.

Hmmm. This couldn’t be connected to AT&T setting up special offices for the NSA at their headquarters, could it?

Yes, CommonCause, the new boss is pretty much the same as the old boss.