AT&T: Mega Mergers And Anti-Competitive Behavior Are Bad…Unless It's Us Doing It
from the ill-communication dept
Focusing on mega-mergers instead of healthy competition is bad, according to AT&T. That is, unless you are AT&T. The telco, fresh off its $69 billion acquisition of DirecTV, this week filed some comments with the FCC (pdf) on Charter Communications’ planned $78.7 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. While AT&T doesn’t outright oppose the merger (hey, that would be hypocritical), AT&T does proclaim that companies like Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner Cable are increasingly focusing on giant mergers and acquisitions in lieu of actually competing with other companies:
“The cable industry, as the merging parties concede, is marked by a lack of head-to-head competition. Cable companies have chosen not to compete and instead coordinate to gain shared advantages over rivals, which further industry consolidation will only facilitate. The reason is simple: as Charter CEO Tom Rutledge put it, following the proposed merger “(t]here will be less people to coordinate [with].”
That’s a pay TV provider that just spent $70 billion on a mega-merger instead of competitive upgrades, complaining that the cable industry spends too much time focusing on mega mergers, and not enough time competing. While AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV did give the company better leverage in broadcast negotiations (savings that most assuredly won’t be passed on to the consumer), its primary goal was ensuring that DirecTV wouldn’t apply any competitive pricing pressure on AT&T’s U-Verse TV business. Apparently conning regulators on a shitty deal that decreased pay TV competition has filled AT&T with fresh joie de vivre.
AT&T notes the only reason it’s even really commenting is because it’s just really worried about the Charter merger’s impact on the emerging Internet video market, which AT&T cherishes like a new family puppy:
“Careful scrutiny is especially warranted because this increased consolidation and coordination comes just as new competitive threats are emerging. Over-the-top video providers are disrupting the traditional cable pay TV model by revolutionizing the way consumers access and view video. AT&T/DIRECTV – which the Commission described as “a bet on competition” – is investing billions to go toe-to-toe with cable incumbents and foster online video distribution ( .. OVD”).”
Except that’s bullshit, too. AT&T aggressively mislead regulators into thinking its DirecTV acquisition would be a good thing, by falsely promising that it would expand fiber to the home service to an additional twelve million homes. Except as we noted at the time, these promises were based on AT&T Miracle Math (TM); the company has been deploying very limited fiber to the home (“fiber to the press release”) to scattered development communities for years, and somehow successfully got the FCC to buy into the idea that these deployments were somehow new — specifically thanks to the DirecTV deal.
It’s that kind of con man confidence that apparently gives AT&T the perceived license to lecture other industries on what constitutes good behavior. Perhaps most amusingly, AT&T takes issue with the cable industry for its tactic of using a wide variety of associations to further the competitive goals of the cable industry:
“The cable industry has formed a variety of exclusive associations, organizations, and other ventures to advance the competitive interests of cable companies. These joint initiatives, although opaque to outsiders, are transparent to cable-company members who may use them to coordinate strategies against rivals. The proposed merger could make that easier.”
Why fan my face before I faint! You mean like the countless associations, astroturf efforts, hijacked minority groups, fake consumer groups, and policy think tanks that AT&T has funded for decades to help it pursue a decidedly anti-consumer and anti-competitive agenda? Most companies are detached from reality in some fashion or another, but absolutely nobody does blistering, hypocritical policy hubris quite like AT&T. Do as ma bell says, not as ma bell does, kids.