AT&T Speaks Plainly–In Michigan

AT&T is speaking plainly in Michigan and we will be making an enormous mistake if we don’t listen here in Louisiana.

BellSouth is currently ramming a state-wide franchise bill through the Lousiana legislature. It is doing so by issuing promises that it cannot keep and which its new owner, AT&T does not intend to keep.

No less than Ed Whitacre, AT&T CEO, told the nation plainly Monday that he doesn’t think he has to pay franchise fees regardless of what laws states and communities pass. Here is what he said in Detroit:

If Michigan doesn’t pass a new law, AT&T may begin delivering TV service anyway, Whitacre said after his speech, noting that Internet-based TV is not cable TV and therefore existing regulations don’t apply.

‘Could we just come in and do it? Sure,’ he said. ‘We’re still contemplating that. But we’d rather work within the system. We hope to make friends.’

So he doesn’t have to sign state–or national–franchises; he can do what he wants to do. The laws don’t apply to his company. He’s only agreeing to hand over to locals 5% off the top of his gross because he’s being nice and wants to make friends.

I don’t believe that. I don’t think anyone who watched the telecos manipulate the 1996 telecom act to neuter and then eliminate competition from CLECs like EATel does either. They’re not in it for nice. Whitacre is the last monopolist. He’s in it for control; for empire; to recreate, quite literally, the old AT&T monopoly.

In Michigan they are zeroing in on what Whitacre really wants–and it is not about being thought of well:

If bills pending in the Michigan legislature pass, AT&T and other cable providers would be able to get a statewide franchise that lets them decide which neighborhoods to serve. AT&T has told investors it plans to serve 90 percent of what it calls “high-value” customers and 5 percent of “low-value” customers.

Municipal officials fear that means low-income areas will be bypassed and that cable companies eventually will stop serving unprofitable neighborhoods. Existing local franchise agreements require Comcast Corp. and other providers to offer their services to everyone in a community.

Municipal officials don’t just “fear” their communities will be abused in this way. They know they being taken for ride–municipal officials across the country belong to national organizations and actually talk to each other. They know that AT&T brooks no compromise with local communities. They are hearing from their colleagues that AT&T is suing where locals assert that their laws apply and is being sued where they ignore local ordinances. In every venue what AT&T has refused to compromise on is what is called “build out requirements,” local requirements that would force them to serve all of the people of the community if they want to use the public’s rights of way. AT&T fully intends to keep its promises to its investors and it can’t do that unless it runs over local resistance.

AT&T intends to use any law it gets from the states to exempt it from having to follow local rules to serve all and to serve all at the same price. That’s what it’s all about.

It doesn’t matter a whit what outgoing BellSouth lobbyists and executives claim. Their AT&T overlords have spoken clearly.

The boys from BellSouth have been claiming in conference calls to local leaders, in committee hearings, and when they eat lunch with legislators is that the franchise bill they are pushing is merely a convenience for them. They are dangling a huge pot of money in front of people and suggest that they’ll serve almost everyone with shiny new systems.

It’s just not true and their AT&T overlords are willing to say so: Whitacre himself says they don’t have to get anyone’s permission. AT&T promises their investors that they’ll offer service to 90% of “high value” customers and only 5% of its “low value.” Low value customers spend $110 a month and less on telecom. What percentage of Louisiana’s users spends that much?

We need to stop listening to the BS puppets. Whitacre is telling us plainly: they’ll be no money and they’ll be no huge buildout. Not in Michigan and certainly not in much poorer Louisiana.

We’re being told clearly and plainly. We need to listen up. And we need to tell our legislature to junk this bill. This bill has already cleared the house. Contact your Senator (find your Senator) and let them know that you expect them to do the right thing here and preserve the local franchise.