I remember flying back from Washington in 1995 after participating in state lobbying efforts before the Florida Congressional delegation. We were sharing our thoughts on the proposed Telecommunications Act of 1996. On the flight was one of AT&T’s lobbyists. He was looking despondent. His face reflected what we all knew was going to happen. BellSouth was about to get its way. They would have a bill that would give them access to the lucrative long distance markets; allowing them to bundle services and provide completion that AT&T wasn’t ready to head off.
Be mindful that this was a little over a decade since AT&T saw itself broken up into about nine baby bells and leaving Ma Bell with just its long lines services. Now, thanks to the Congress, some states, and the Bells, Ma Bell was about to be eaten by her children. Yes, I felt Jack’s pain on that flight.
The tables have changed for AT&T. It’s back in the local phone service business. It still has its long distance service, and now provides broadband and wireless phone services. Over a thirty year period, the one-play has turned into the four-play, and this time AT&T doesn’t want another attack on its business model. They have learned to appreciate pluralism.
Consumer groups, like the ones in California mentioned in this article, find themselves on the losing side of regulatory and legislative debates because they are fragmented (how many damned consumer groups do you need talking about phones), prone to vitriol (just read social media comments of Free Press and Public Knowledge) and don’t know how to hug and bake cookies. After all these years they haven’t learned the tricks of the trade, but are taken aback by corporations that appear a whole lot better at addressing the human element of the legislatures and regulatory commissions they come in contact with.
Yes, consumer watchdogs. You aren’t losing because AT&T is good at lobbying. You’re losing because you are not good at being … human.