In the last few years alone, AT&T has received fines totaling about $105 million for aiding “crammers” in defrauding their customers, $60 million for misleading customers about the meaning of “unlimited” data, and $18.6 million for aiding programmes for the hearing impaired. It has also been accused of defrauding American schools for decades.
The firm is also no stranger to utilising shady lobbying to get anything it wants, including less competition, fewer consumer protections, mergers that are rubber-stamped, or enormous tax benefits that have no discernible benefit to society. The company’s questionable practises almost never result in any negative consequences.
“We hold ourselves and our contractors to the highest ethical standards. We are committed to ensuring that this never happens again” a spokesperson made a statement.
That good fortune recently ran out in Illinois, where the business was penalised $23 million for buying a key policy vote by buying the support of a state politician. The vote in question, according to a deferred prosecution agreement, was on a piece of 2017 legislation known as Carrier of Last Resort (COLR), which would have ended AT&T’s duty to continue offering landline service to all state residents.
Naturally, AT&T wants to avoid having to offer outdated landlines. Consumer advocacy groups point out that many of those landlines are used by elderly people who frequently lack access to crucial services like 911 because they cannot afford or are unable to use cellular service.
I’ve been covering AT&T for 22 years, and I know that this kind of filthy pool occurs frequently. Since AT&T almost controls the whole state legislature in many states, it frequently shapes state telecom legislation and policy. This is an unusual occasion because AT&T sees absolutely no consequences for the behaviour the vast, vast majority of the time.
These strategies are nothing new for AT&T at the federal level either. The firm has destroyed the FCC and its consumer protection power in the last five years alone, abolished both net neutrality and broadband privacy rules, and is presently assisting in the obstruction of FCC nominee Gigi Hadid’s candidacy.