AT&T's political troops muscle Tennessee into submission

28 March 2016 by Steve Blum
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Lobbyists, primarily from AT&T, won the day in the Tennessee legislature when they leaned hard enough on a handful of lawmakers and killed a bill that would have allowed municipal broadband utilities to expand beyond city limits. According to a story in the Chattanooga Time Free Press, a “platoon” of AT&T political operatives descended on the Tennessee capitol to convince a bare majority of a key subcommittee to kill a compromise bill that would have allowed one pilot project to move ahead.

What they fear most is competition. Muni broadband is fine for communities that AT&T has redlined, but not where it already provides service, according to the newspaper

AT&T, Comcast and other providers say it’s unfair to have them compete against government entities, and they insist most areas are served well despite customer complaints.

In a statement, AT&T said the bill wasn’t going to serve its intended purpose.

“AT&T has been clear that we aren’t opposed to municipal broadband when it is targeted to unserved areas, but none of the bills considered … has any provision that would limit government expansion to unserved areas or even focus on those areas.

AT&T’s position is a bald faced assertion of its right to own and exploit a government protected monopoly. It’s fighting its competitive battles by political means, rather than with, say, better service at a lower price. In Tennessee, as in California, AT&T has learned that it’s far cheaper to buy a protected monopoly by stuffing a few thousand dollars into a politician’s pocket than it is to defend one in an open market.