The GLBT community has suddenly become an outspoken proponent lobbying in favor of AT&T's proposed buy-out of T-Mobile. This merger has become an odd rallying point for organizations that normally have little interest in telecom deals.
Until the past couple of weeks, most of the voices speaking up have been the usual suspects such as competitors applying to regulators to restrict the deal. Sprint even went so far as to file legal briefs with the FCC trying to get this merger blocked altogether, something that regulators haven't done in a zillion years. There's also been tech companies offering pro-merger support (more on that in a minute).
But now there's this new wave of politically motivated, consumer-level calls to support it. That's really weird, in a way, because normally consumers are not well served when market behemoths marry. This merger, however, is turning into a rallying point for all kinds of things other than wireless services.
The issue, say these parties, is unions. AT&T has them, T-Mobile does not, and there's been some public battles with the Communications Workers of America implying that T-Mobile has been actively fighting unions. AT&T's union has meant some of the best working conditions and benefits for GLBT workers, according to a written statement from the Pride at Work lobbying organization sent as an e-mailed press release. The organization says AT&T offers benefits such as domestic partner health insurance, family and medical leave for partners, and health insurance that covers transgender surgical procedures."AT&T is wall-to-wall union. That means that, unlike other companies who may tout LGBT inclusive policies, AT&T employees have a seat at the bargaining table and their benefits are secured in a legally-binding union contract," claims the Pride at Work organization.
But wait, there's more! Other groups who arguably should have no interest in telecom deals have also been rallying cries of support. These include the NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Education Association. These groups also applaud AT&T as a pro-union company, even though some of their public statements, such as the NEA's were rather thin.
Hmm. Each of these groups have also been on the receiving end of large donations from AT&T, some of them for years, documents Politco. [UPDATED: 06/27/11: Pride at Work contacted us to clarify that it does not receive funds from AT&T. Politico's money trail includes the NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the NEA.] Naturally the groups say the money has nothing to do with their public support. Pride at Work even plans to hold a press conference "to correct the record regarding organizational motivations for backing the merger," it says. "This isn't a case of 'follow the money,' it's a case of 'look at the record,’" says, Peggy Shorey, the organization's Executive Director. AT&T also told Politico that these groups are not being asked to voice quid pro quo support. It says it donates to them because it's the moral thing to do.
On the other hand, the cry of support could very well be legit. As part of the deal, AT&T has promised to expand its 4G LTE network to 95 percent of the American population, [PDF], a promise that caused a House Judiciary Committee to grill AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (pictured above) last month. Representative John Conyers, Jr., (D – Mich.), wanted to know why AT&T needed the merger since the poor economics of expanding to rural areas won't be changed by it and AT&T could very well roll out expanded coverage without T-Mobile's help.
Nevertheless, the promise that the merger will include a massive investment to bring wireless to rural areas is winning over groups that don't get money from AT&T, too. Earlier this month a band of tech companies gave their thumbs up. These included Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Oracle, Research in Motion and some venture capitalist firms.
So everyone's jumping on board. The Sierra Club even gave its approval saying that expansion of the wireless Internet will improve carbon emissions related to travel and encourage smart grid technologies. And of course, there's nothing better than streaming Netflix on your laptop while camping in the woods.