Trump Hotel Fracas Highlights How T-Mobile's Consumer-Friendly Brand Schtick Is Wearing A Little Thin
from the ill-communication dept
To be clear, T-Mobile initially had an indisputably-positive impact on the wireless sector. The company’s decision to eliminate consumer pain points like long-term contracts and early termination fees was quickly mirrored by other carriers thanks to a strange concept known as “competition.” And CEO John Legere’s relentless attacks on giants like AT&T and Verizon have proven to be immensely entertaining over the years. All told, T-Mobile has built its entire brand on the back of the idea that it was a polar opposite of the type of ethically-dubious giants that have dominated telecom for a generation.
In more recent years the company’s “uncarrier” branding schtick has started to look a little worn around the edges. From supporting efforts to kill net neutrality to weirdly attacking the EFF, the company occasionally lets its mask slip, showing it’s not all that different from the companies it professes to be better than. This shift has been particularly obvious as the company has tried to sell the press, public, and Trump administration on the company’s job and competition killing merger with Sprint (like that time it hired Corey Lewandowski to “consult” despite his comments mocking a kid with Down Syndrome).
As it rushes to consolidate the wireless sector from four to three carriers, T-Mobile’s increasingly engaging in behavior it used to mock AT&T and Verizon for. Not least of which being the company’s empty promises to police the sale of user location data to dubious third brokers and aggregators, something T-Mobile was perfectly happy to do in lock-step with other carriers.
That brings us to this week’s revelations that T-Mobile executives booked 9 rooms at Trump’s DC hotel the day after it first announced its Sprint merger ambitions. T-Mobile execs have been regular patrons ever since as they try to sell the government on the latest telecom sector megadeal nobody asked for:
“T-Mobile executives have returned to President Trump?s hotel repeatedly since then, according to eyewitnesses and hotel documents obtained by The Washington Post.
By mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger, hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his 10th visit to the hotel. Legere appears to have made at least four visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear.”
The Post had been digging into this story for months. When they recently confronted Legere in the lobby of Trump’s hotel he tried to claim his patronage was thanks to the “convenience” and “security” Trump’s hotel offered:
“Last week, a Post reporter spotted Legere in the Trump hotel?s lobby. In an impromptu interview, the T-Mobile chief executive said he was not seeking special treatment. He chose the Trump hotel, he said, for its fine service and good security.
“It?s become a place I feel very comfortable,? Legere said. He also praised the hotel?s location, next to one of the departments that must approve the company?s merger. “At the moment I am in town for some meetings at the Department of Justice,? Legere said. ?And it?s very convenient for that.”
Legere has historically built his brand on the idea that he’s part of a straight shooting, no bullshit alternative to traditionally sketchy telecom operators. Yet here he is pretty clearly assuming a major media outlet and his Twitter followers are stupid. Legere took to Twitter to similarly proclaim there’s just no way that his heavy sudden patronage of a Trump business could possibly influence the Trump administration’s policy making decisions:
As I said that day, my leaders & I stay in many different hotels in DC. The process to get our merger approved is important and rigorous – and we respect it. We will continue to go through that process and I don?t expect a hotel stay to have any influence on regulatory decisions.
— John Legere (@JohnLegere) January 16, 2019
Right. There’s just no way that giving additional money and attention to a raging narcissist’s brand could possibly shape the thinking of such an influence-immune administration, right? Again, the assumption here appears to be that we’re collectively fairly dim, especially given the ample coverage of the emoluments battle currently being waged. T-Mobile went from insisting it didn’t engage in the same “bullshit” as AT&T and T-Mobile, to quickly becoming arguably indistinguishable when it comes to pandering for governmental favors.
To be fair, this was a situation Legere was likely forced into. T-Mobile’s owner Deutsche Telekom has been eager to exit the U.S. wireless market for years, putting Legere in the unenviable position of having to shift from playing an edgy Millennial caricature to selling a mammoth turd. Still, the amount of bullshit Legere’s been pushing to sell the merger is pretty comical, ranging from claims that eliminating one of just four major competitors will magically increase competition, to claims the deal will create thousands of jobs (despite the fact that Wall Street, and history, predict the exact opposite).
There are, of course, fifty years of history documenting how these kinds of mergers generally raise rates, erode jobs, and reduce service quality as consolidation reduces the incentive to compete. It’s the exact cause of the problem Legere has spent the last ten years ranting about. Despite this, opposition to this deal has been slow to materialize, though New York and California regulators are just starting to have some doubts as to whether this deal will even remotely deliver a fraction of its promised “synergies.”
All told, T-Mobile in its earlier incarnations applied some very useful pressure on a stale, historically anti-consumer wireless sector, even if its impact on price competition has probably been overstated by the press. But as T-Mobile stumbles further and further down the rabbit hole in its bid to kiss Trump’s ass and get its merger approved, it’s starting to look more and more like the companies’ T-Mobile has spent years making fun of. Should the deal be approved and competitive pressure proportionally reduced, you can expect this metamorphosis away from T-Mobile’s consumer-friendly roots to rapidly accelerate.