AT&T lobbying starts with cupcakes – and includes a lot more

Does it matter who’s in the White House?

WASHINGTON — in this covetous town, the delicacies of the Georgetown Cupcake shop stand alone as symbols of wish fulfillment — heaping swirls of luscious confection atop rich, creamy pastry.

Therefore: Operation Cupcake. As the Federal Communications Commission debated final rules last December on how Internet service providers should manage their traffic, AT&T delivered 1,500 of these opulent desserts to the F.C.C.’s headquarters here.

Like many other big corporations, AT&T annually blankets power brokers with token holiday gifts, but the cupcake campaign was notable for its military precision. A three-page spreadsheet, stamped “AT&T Proprietary (Internal Use Only),” detailed how the desserts were to be deployed to each of the 63 commission offices: four dozen were assigned to the enforcement bureau, 10 dozen to the wireless divisions, 12 cupcakes to each of four commissioners, and 18 to the chairman, and so on.

As it turns out, AT&T had begun its $39 billion courting of T-Mobile about the same time. The resulting deal, announced a week ago, would transform the industry if approved. It would narrow the field of major wireless providers to three and vault AT&T into the No. 1 spot, ahead of Verizon; consumer advocates say the combination will lead to higher prices.

As interested parties lobby for and against the merger, one person will be pulling at the levers of power more often and with more influence than anyone else, according to both friends and foes: AT&T’s chief lobbyist, James W. Cicconi. A master strategist, Mr. Cicconi internalizes the art of regulatory and legislative war — and Operation Cupcake is but one of the efforts to come out of his shop…

In 13 years at AT&T, Mr. Cicconi has helped guide the company through roughly a dozen mergers, large and small, and he has made his share of enemies in Washington. As a testament to his power, however, few of them will criticize him on the record…

Nor is Mr. Cicconi’s lobbying effort a one-man show. He oversees a division that spent $115 million on lobbying over the last six years, putting it among the top five corporate spenders in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying and campaign spending.

AT&T employs an army of outside lobbyists, including at least six prominent former members of Congress, including the former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, and former Senator John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat.

Two of the sleaziest politicians who ever lived.

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AT&T is buying T-Mobile for $39 billion

AT&T has announced a definitive agreement to buy Deutsche Telekom’s American T-Mobile subsidiary in a cash and stock deal worth about $39 billion, and giving the German carrier an 8 percent stake in AT&T…

T-Mobile and AT&T share similar GSM and UMTS/HSPA networks, and both are working to build new next generation networks using HSPA+ and LTE. However, obtaining the rights to radio spectrum and building out these networks is both expensive and complex.

AT&T’s chief executive Randall Stephenson said the deal “provides a fast, efficient and certain solution to the impending exhaustion of wireless spectrum in some markets, which limits both companies’ ability to meet the ongoing explosive demand for mobile broadband…”

T-Mobile adds 33.7 million subscribers to AT&T’s network of of about 95.5 million, creating a total of about 130 million users, and becoming the largest American carrier. The deal will also expand Apple’s iPhone to three of what were the top four US carriers, as Apple has already brought it to Verizon earlier this year.

RTFA for the details. Fascinating – and expanded choices for anyone who owns or intends to own a GSM mobile device. In our market in northern New Mexico, we had held off on buying any iPhones or 3G iPads because of the requirement of dealing with AT&T. Their service is mediocre here at best. T-Mobile has been our personal choice for cellular service for years.

OK – aside from the new availability of hardware and increased network access across the country, what will this mean for consumers? In the opinion of many, we’re more likely to be screwed by higher prices, narrower opportunities for software and app developers.

One of the best analysts in the world on the dynamic mobile market is Om Malik. Here’s a link to his analysis as the story broke. Not especially optimistic.

What happens when you merge with conservatives?


Joined at the hip?
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Support for Liberal Democrats has plunged to just 12 per cent – half the level the party secured in the General Election – according to a poll.

The YouGov survey for the Sunday Times also recorded a steep nosedive in the popularity of the party’s leader Nick Clegg since he became Deputy Prime Minister by taking the Lib Dems into coalition Government with the Conservatives.

Mr Clegg’s personal satisfaction rating was eight points, compared to the spectacular 72 points he achieved in the wake of the first televised leaders’ debate during the election campaign.

The Lib Dems rating was half the 24 per cent the party won in the election and the lowest since October 2007, when Sir Menzies Campbell was forced out as leader…

The poll came after Mr Clegg admitted in a TV documentary that he changed his mind about the need for spending cuts before the election without making his shift public, and after questions were raised over whether he misled Mr Cameron about the offers Labour had made him on electoral reform.

Signs of unrest have also emerged within his party over the coalition’s position on issues like immigration, schools and university tuition fees.

Merge your policies with crap policies – it sticks.

Fiat and Chrysler create alliance


Daylife/Getty Images

Italian carmaker Fiat and US giant Chrysler have agreed to create a global strategic alliance. Under the terms of the deal, Fiat will get a 35% stake in Chrysler. In return, the US firm will get access to Fiat’s fuel-efficient vehicle technologies.

The United Auto Workers union (UAW) welcomed the deal, saying it could help preserve US manufacturing jobs.

The statement points out, however, that the agreement does not commit Fiat to funding Chrysler in future.

Chrysler has received an emergency loan from the US government worth $4bn, while Fiat has said it needed a partner because it was too small to continue on its own. Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne said the deal represented “a key milestone in the rapidly changing landscape of the automotive sector”.

Trading in Fiat shares had earlier been suspended amid speculation of a possible partnership with the US firm. After the announcement was made and trading resumed, Fiat shares rose 3.5%.

Now, bring over the new Fiat 500 with the 1.3 liter turbodiesel. Yes!

FCC approves Sirius Satellite acquisition of XM


Sirius Satellite Radio’s $3.3 billion purchase of XM Satellite Radio has been approved with conditions by U.S. communications regulators, clearing the way for a deal that will leave just one U.S. satellite radio service.

The FCC’s commissioners voted by a 3-2 margin in favor of a proposal that would allow the deal to proceed as long as the companies met a series of consumer protection conditions, including a three-year cap on prices, setting aside 8 percent of their channel capacity for minority and non-commercial programming and payment of a $19.7 million penalty for past FCC rule violations.

The companies also will have to make available to consumers radios that receive both Sirius and XM. As part of the order, the FCC also will conduct an inquiry into whether it should require that all satellite radios be built with technology that allows them to also receive high definition terrestrial radio signals…

The merger would bring entertainers such as Oprah Winfrey and shock jock Howard Stern under the same banner.

Overdue. Neither firm has managed to outstrip the other, in content, style or substance. Now, there’s a better chance of a single self-sustaining operation.