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More Than 2,000 AT&T Workers Getting $1,000 Bonus and Termination Notice

Phillip Dampier December 27, 2017 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

AT&T’s promised more jobs as a result of a large corporate tax cut, but is now reneging on the deal.

More than 2,000 AT&T employees will be given a one-time bonus of $1,000 as a consequence of the passage of the Republican tax cut legislation signed into law late last week by President Donald Trump and then will see their jobs terminated as AT&T begins sweeping job cuts across several of its divisions.

In the midwest, at least 600 employees working to maintain AT&T’s wireline network have been notified their jobs will be lost by early 2018. Additional layoffs include more than 700 DirecTV home installers whose jobs will be eliminated or outsourced to third-party contractors, 215 “high skilled technicians in nine southern states” whose jobs will not be replaced, and almost 700 workers in Texas and Missouri will see their jobs disappear beginning in February.

“Technology improvements are driving higher efficiencies, and there are some areas where demand for our legacy services continues to decline, and we’re adjusting our workforce in some of those areas as we continue to align our workforce with the changing needs of the business,” AT&T explained in a statement. “Many of the affected employees have a job offer guarantee that ensures they’ll be offered another job with the company, and we’ll work to find other jobs for as many of them as possible.”

Workers report AT&T’s promises do not tell the whole story. Most offered replacement jobs will have to move to other states and accept compensation reductions and a loss of seniority.

“How can you lay people off and then give them $1,000 and say that there’s going to be more jobs available? I wish someone could tell me how that’s possible because I have to explain that to my members, and right now at this time of year, this is a difficult pill to swallow,” Joseph Blanco, president of Local 6360 Communication Workers of America Union in Kansas City, told Fox 4 on Thursday.

Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, joined with Republicans in a press statement that claimed the new tax bill would improve the U.S. economy and the company’s standing.

In the spring of 2017, Stephenson promised an additional 7,000 jobs for every $1 billion in investment:

“The arithmetic for us is simple: For every billion dollars of additional investment we make is 7,000 additional jobs we have to put on to put that capital into the ground or on cell towers and so forth,” he said, adding that those jobs would likely be “hard hat” jobs that pay well.

“Congress, working closely with the president, took a monumental step to bring taxes paid by U.S. businesses in line with the rest of the industrialized world. This tax reform will drive economic growth and create good-paying jobs,” Stephenson said, according to CNBC. Except those “good-paying jobs” likely won’t be with AT&T. In statements to investors, Stephenson reiterated his plans for sweeping job cuts in the form of “cost savings.”

Last year, senior executives at AT&T told The New York Times that “shrinking the [company’s] workforce by 30 percent is not out of the question.”

Telecom Companies Win Huge New Tax Breaks and Falsely Promise Spending Spree

Some of America’s top telephone and cable companies will likely pay little, if any federal taxes as a result of the passage of a Republican-sponsored tax cut plan, while some may also receive generous “refunds” based on depreciation-related expenses and future investments the companies would have made with or without changes to the tax code.

For several years in the last decade, companies with significant infrastructure expenses often did not spend a penny in federal taxes thanks to generous loopholes and incentive programs designed to encourage corporations to invest in new equipment, research, and development. The new Republican-sponsored tax cut is expected to provide a windfall of tax savings for every corporation in the country, but telecom companies are expected to do especially well with a combination of a lower corporate tax rate and the GOP’s failure to fulfill a commitment to close many of the tax loopholes and incentives that were originally designed to get companies spending during the Great Recession.

No provider has promised customers lower rates as a result of the billions of additional dollars the companies are expected to keep in the bank starting next year. In fact, there are early signs that much of the anticipated windfall will be returned to shareholders in the form of increased dividend payouts and accelerated share buyback schemes that reduce the number of shares available for sale, boosting both the sale price of the stock and executive bonus compensation tied to the price performance of the stock.

Despite that, companies including AT&T and Comcast are cranking up their PR machines to get on the good side of the Trump Administration, suggesting the new tax cuts will directly benefit middle class employees at both companies.

AT&T’s capex increased $1.1 billion to $11.2 billion for the first six months of 2017 without the tax cut legislation.

AT&T announced it would pay a one-time $1,000 bonus to its workers and invest an additional $1 billion in network upgrades as a direct result of the tax cuts.

However, a closer look reveals AT&T’s commitments to boost compensation came not as a result of the tax cut but instead from nearly a year of hard negotiations with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), one of the biggest unions representing AT&T workers.

The CWA argued that AT&T needed to follow-through on the Republican Party’s promise that passage of the tax cuts would result in higher wages for the middle class.

“Republicans, including the president, said the average household would get $4,000 under this tax plan,” CWA spokesperson Candice Johnson told The Daily Beast. In November, CWA officials began to demand $4,000 raises for AT&T workers promised by the GOP. “This bonus came out of that conversation. It’s a start, and we’re going to keep holding our leaders accountable.”

Instead of $4,000 more a year for AT&T workers as a result of the tax cut bill, the union’s influence achieved a $1,000 one time bonus and an average salary bump of 10.1%. Without pressure from the union, many AT&T employees and union officials believe AT&T would have offered little, if anything to its employees as a result of the tax cut.

AT&T’s Christmas Bonus will cost the company a fraction of the amount it risks losing if its $109 billion merger deal with Time Warner, Inc., does not survive an antitrust review by the Justice Department and the courts. The Justice Department announced its opposition to the merger. The connection between AT&T’s press release, which plays into the Trump Administration’s talking points about the tax cut law, and AT&T’s need for a friendlier response to its merger deal by administration officials, was not lost on Crane’s Chicago Business:

By now, companies have learned the art of crafting the type of upbeat, largely symbolic press releases our president loves, with enough big numbers to get them on the White House’s good side. If this time around that also means some extra money in workers’ pockets, all the better. But some of these announcements come across as more gimmicky than others, and it’s not hard to wonder if there are also other motives at work.

AT&T is angling to overcome regulatory objections to its $109 billion merger with Time Warner Inc. and either way, needs to invest in the U.S. to build out its fiber-optic cable and 5G networks. Analysts estimate AT&T’s net income will be close to $14 billion this year.

AT&T’s commitment to spend up to $1 billion additional dollars next year as a direct result of the tax cut is recycled old news, critics charge, because AT&T previously announced the same $1 billion commitment in early November. Regardless, the extra spending is a small fraction of AT&T’s overall capex budget.

In 2016, at the height of so-called “investment-killing net neutrality,” AT&T exceeded its 2016 capex forecast, spending $22.9 billion — $900,000 more than it expected. In 2017, AT&T announced it expected to spend $22 billion again this year, primarily on its wireless network and wired business solutions. The other major former Baby Bell – Verizon Communications, spent $17.1 billion in 2016 and expected to spend up to $17.5 billion this year.

AT&T’s promise to spend an additional $1 billion is a token amount, especially when considering the tax cut savings likely to be won by phone companies like AT&T and Verizon. From 2008-2015, AT&T paid an effective federal tax rate of just 8.1%, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. It will pay considerably less under the Republican tax law, potentially saving the company billions. During the same period, Verizon paid absolutely zero federal taxes during many of those years, and in fact won a refund from the IRS because of network investments and depreciation-related savings. Because the GOP did not close many of the corporate loopholes the politicians initially promised would be ended, many telecom companies could once again pay little, if any federal tax, and may secure hefty refunds.

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Comcast’s $1,000 Christmas Bonus and $50 Billion Spending Commitment

Not to be outdone, Comcast has also promised a $1,000 one time Christmas bonus for its employees as a result of the passage of the GOP tax measure, along with a commitment to spend $50 billion on its business over the next five years:

Based on the passage of tax reform and the FCC’s action on broadband, Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast NBCUniversal, announced that the company would award special $1,000 bonuses to more than 100,000 eligible frontline and non-executive employees. Roberts also announced that the company expects to spend well in excess of $50 billion over the next five years investing in infrastructure to radically improve and extend our broadband plant and capacity, and our television, film and theme park offerings.

Roberts

Comcast’s spending on its theme parks acquired from NBCUniversal has been especially bullish, with Roberts announcing earlier this year nearly $2 billion in spending  in 2017. In fact, Comcast’s capex spending has trended higher year after year, especially after its acquisition of NBCUniversal. In 2014, the company spent $7.2 billion on capital investments. In 2015, as net neutrality rules took effect, Comcast raised investments to $8.1 billion. In 2016, the capex budget fell slightly to $7.597 billion in 2016, but was forecast to reach $8.445 billion in 2017. Ars Technica reports that from the fourth quarter of 2016 through the third quarter of 2017, Comcast spent $9.4 billion on capital investments.

Much of that spending has been to pay for its X1 set-top box, theme park upgrades, and scaling up its broadband infrastructure to handle faster internet speeds. Earlier in 2017, Comcast also boosted its commitment to spend billions on buying back shares of its own stock, which will benefit shareholders and company executive compensation plans.

As the industry marches towards fiber upgrades and DOCSIS 3.1 deployment, Comcast’s capex forecast without the tax cuts would like come very close to Roberts’ $50 billion estimate over the next five years, assuming the company spent a reasonable average of close to $10 billion annually. Roberts said he “expects” spending at that level, but did not commit to it formally, so there is no penalty for overestimating investment numbers.

AT&T earlier noted predictions about capital investments always relate to actual need at the time and the company doesn’t spend money it does not need to spend.

“There is no reason to expect capital expenditures to increase by the same amount year after year,” AT&T said at the time. “Capital expenditures tend to be ‘lumpy.’ Providers make significant expenditures to upgrade and expand their networks in one year (e.g., perhaps because a new generation of technology has just been introduced), and then focus the next year on signing up customers and integrating those new facilities into their existing networks, and then make additional capital expenditures later, and so on.”

But there are political upsides to making no-strings-attached investment predictions anyway.

Comcast’s share repurchase program also allows the company to boost dividend payouts to shareholders.

Issuing a favorable press release that dovetails with the Trump Administration’s tax cut plan could buy Comcast goodwill from the administration as the company faces calls from Congress to extend merger deal conditions and restrictions on its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Those conditions are scheduled to expire in September 2018.

Jon Brodkin notes that telecom companies frequently tie their spending plans to regulatory matters going in their favor:

When ISPs are asking the government for a specific policy change—such as the repeal of a regulation or a tax break—they are quick to claim that the desired policy will lead to more investment.

AT&T, for example, announced last month that it would invest “an additional $1 billion” if Congress passes tax reform. With the tax reform now passed by Congress, AT&T said yesterday that it will move ahead with that $1 billion increase.

But neither one of those AT&T announcements said what the exact level of investment would have been if the tax bill wasn’t passed.

And in 2010, AT&T told the FCC that capital expenditures are based on technology upgrade cycles rather than government policy. At the time, AT&T was asking the FCC for a favor—the company wanted a declaration that the wireless market is competitive, a finding that can influence how the FCC regulates wireless carriers.

Verizon Accuses AT&T of “Rigging the Game to Stifle True Competition”

It is rare for AT&T and Verizon to feud in public, even rarer for one company to accuse the other of being anti-competitive, but that is precisely what happened last week in California as the two companies sparred over building a next generation wireless network for first responders.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is a government program to provide emergency responders with priority access to the first nationwide, high-speed wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T won an extremely lucrative contract to build, operate and maintain the network in states that “opt in” to AT&T/FirstNet’s proposal. But AT&T is not building a separate wireless network apart from its existing wireless infrastructure. It is using $6.5 billion in public taxpayer dollars and free access to an extremely valuable segment of nationwide 700MHz spectrum, known as Band 14, to improve its existing wireless network for individual customers and the first responders that will get priority access in the event of an emergency.

For AT&T to benefit the most financially, it has to convince each of 56 states and territories to “opt in” to its FirstNet deployment plan or do nothing at all, which will result in that state or territory automatically being enrolled in AT&T’s plan. If a state elects to opt out of AT&T’s plan, the wireless company cannot get free access to Band 14 or collect the taxpayer dollars designated for that area.

FirstNet is one of AT&T’s most lucrative contracts in years, and the phone company is doing everything possible to win over state officials in hopes they will embrace the FirstNet plan. It has been a successful effort with more than 30 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands purposely opting in, and more than a dozen still studying AT&T’s offer. To date, no state has opted out.

Verizon, which did not bid on the original FirstNet contract, has not walked away from providing public safety communications and has spent a considerable amount of its advertising budget to promote Verizon’s own services to first responders, designed to assure they get first priority to clogged cellular networks in the event of an emergency. In August, Verizon announced it will privately finance its own “private network core” to directly serve police, fire, ambulance, and related agencies. Verizon’s first responder network will be separate from Verizon’s public network, but the company has also promised full priority access to its public LTE 4G network across the country.

Verizon’s counteroffer comes without taxpayer financing, yet will offer many of the same services as AT&T FirstNet, without costing the country more than $6 billion. Among the services Verizon will give away for free: priority/preemption access, which means in an emergency, first priority will go to emergency officials even if it means dropping your cell phone call or data session. Verizon is also bolstering its Push-to-Talk Plus service, which works with existing land mobile radio networks. This will allow first responders to use the “walkie talkie”-type features already a familiar part of their radio equipment.

Verizon’s offer would seem to be a good deal for consumers and governments in states like New York and California that have yet to opt in to AT&T FirstNet, and in California, Verizon was invited to bid to create an alternative network in a potential “opt out” scenario. Verizon’s director of public-safety solutions group – David Wiederecht, promised the state Verizon would submit its bid by the state deadline, which was last Wednesday. By Friday, California officials leaked word Verizon had reneged on that commitment and did not participate, a fact Verizon later confirmed.

Verizon accused AT&T and FirstNet of colluding to rig the “Request for Proposals” process in California with requirements that were impossible for anyone except AT&T to meet.

“Vigorous competition that allows the industry and the marketplace to continue to grow and innovate is in the best interest of public safety and should be everyone’s shared goal,” Verizon said in a written statement. “Instead, we believe FirstNet and its corporate partner are rigging the game in order to stifle true competition.”

Urgent Communications reported that the among the most onerous requirements imposed by AT&T and FirstNet is that all emergency communications in an “opt out” state must be sent to the FirstNet LTE core network operated by AT&T. That would mean that regardless of who builds and operates the network, AT&T still remains at the core of FirstNet.

“We’re not prepared to have our public safety customers run on a network where we can’t control their ability to connect or their customer experience,” according to the Verizon spokesperson.

Verizon suggests the reason for 36 states to have opted-in to AT&T’s proposal may not be the result of love for AT&T, but rather the punishments the states and territories risk if they don’t sign on with AT&T.

Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public safety, testified at a Pennsylvania hearing regarding FirstNet and warned states could be effectively stuck with AT&T indefinitely.

“States should not be required to use the network core deployed by (AT&T) FirstNet, as such a requirement would put the state in the untenable position of being driven by the interests and decisions of FirstNet’s commercial partner—a condition that would be unattractive to any prospective state commercial partner,” Brittingham said.

AT&T has also borrowed from its customer preservation policies on the retail side with terms and conditions that could be financially devastating to states that decide to look elsewhere.

Because any competing provider is required to use AT&T’s network core to be a part of FirstNet, AT&T can set whatever price it chooses for third party access. But most onerous of all is the penalty imposed if a state opts out of AT&T FirstNet and chooses a vendor that does not meet every FirstNet guideline. In that case, a state would be required to come hat in hand back to AT&T/FirstNet for service that does meet the guidelines AT&T/FirstNet wrote. In California, that penalty fee would amount to as much as $15 billion, more than twice the amount taxpayers are paying AT&T to build out FirstNet in at least 36 states and territories.

Taken from a FirstNet fact sheet.

AT&T defended the amount of the penalty fee, claiming it has to build or enhance its network to provide public safety communications for at least 25 years, but critics contend the penalty is so risky, most states will opt for the path of least resistance and legal exposure and sign on with AT&T/FirstNet.

Verizon’s complaints about the bidding process received a strong rebuke from AT&T.

“Building a state-of-the art network that meets the needs of first responders is hard. Clearly, AT&T is up for the task,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said in a statement provided to Urgent Communications. “We’re noticing a pattern: Verizon says they have public safety’s back, but when it comes to the heavy lifting, they are nowhere to be found.”

But then, neither are any competing providers.

BREAKING: Justice Dept. Will File a Lawsuit to Block AT&T/Time Warner Merger

Phillip Dampier November 20, 2017 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice will file a lawsuit aimed at blocking AT&T Inc’s $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, struck a deal in October 2016 to buy Time Warner, which owns the premium channel HBO, movie studio Warner Bros and news channel CNN, in order to compete by bundling mobile service with video entertainment.

Shares of Time Warner fell to trade about 1 percent lower on Monday on the back of reports that the U.S. government is set to make an antitrust announcement.

The media company’s stock was trading near the flatline before the news hit. AT&T shares, meanwhile, jumped about 1 percent. Bloomberg first reported the news.

AT&T CEO Denies Anyone in Government Asked Him to Sell CNN

Stephenson

AT&T’s top executive has found himself uncomfortably caught in a political fracas pitting Trump loyalists who want to punish CNN, career staffers that claim they are genuinely concerned about the media concentration that would result from AT&T’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Time Warner, Inc., and Trump critics rushing to defend whatever they perceive the administration is against.

A frustrated Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, appeared at The New York Times Dealbook Conference in New York Thursday to talk about his astonishment that the company’s merger has become a public political hot potato that theorizes on President Donald Trump’s active dislike of CNN and opponents of the president who suspect the Trump Administration is attempting to punish the news media for its negative coverage of the president.

“I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN, period. And likewise I have never offered to sell CNN,” Stephenson said, refuting rumors that emerged in a Financial Times piece on Wednesday that claimed AT&T would have to dump CNN to get its merger deal approved. “There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN.”

While repeatedly stressing his conversations with the Department of Justice were strictly confidential, Stephenson was willing to publicly deny that CNN was ever discussed as part of the merger review. Stephenson was not so willing to comment on rumors the DoJ was seeking a divestiture of DirecTV, which AT&T acquired for $48.5 billion in 2014.

Stephenson declared it “makes no sense” to sell CNN or Turner Broadcasting, the Time Warner-owned division that runs TBS, CNN, Headline News, TNT and other cable channels.

“There is a lot of information and data that we think can be used to stand up a new advertising business,” Stephenson said. “Pairing that with the Turner advertising inventory is a really powerful thing, we believe. That is what we aspire to do. Selling CNN makes no sense in that context.”

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: ‘I have never been told that the price of getting a deal done was selling CNN’ from CNBC. (2:19)

The political backlash that has since emerged may actually help AT&T’s PR effort to win approval of the deal as Trump critics now rush to defend AT&T as a victim of presidential authoritarianism.

Bloomberg News published an editorial this afternoon calling for the merger to be approved just to stick it to the Trump Administration:

You don’t have to be a fan of the merger to realize that there is something seriously wrong here. As others have noted, the merger appears to be in trouble for a worrisome reason: President Donald Trump hates CNN and wants to inflict some punishment.

That Trump has long opposed the merger is hardly a secret. During his campaign, he said that if AT&T and Time Warner were allowed to combine it would “destroy democracy.” He put out a campaign statement vowing to “break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies” that “are attempting to unduly influence America’s political process.”

As for his antipathy towards CNN, it’s been a running subplot ever since he decided to run for president. He bashed the station all through the campaign and hasn’t let up as president, accusing it of being one of the media outlets that trafficks in “fake news.” A few months ago, he shockingly tweeted an image of a train running over a CNN reporter.

Trump has every right to oppose the deal and to criticize CNN; as they say, it’s a free country. But he doesn’t have the right to bend the Justice Department to his will. Yet that appears to be what is happening. That antitrust expert who said last year that the deal didn’t pose any problems? Makan Delrahim is now the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division. And wouldn’t you know it: He’s suddenly had a change of heart about the antitrust implications of the deal.

[…] It is appalling that the Justice Department’s antitrust department appears poised to do Trump’s bidding. The good news is that AT&T has vowed to go to court if the government tries to block the merger. So far, the judiciary has been the branch of government that has stood up to the president’s authoritarian impulses. I never thought I would be rooting for two very big companies to combine into one giant company, but I am. If the AT&T-Time Warner merger goes through, it will mean that the rule of law has won. At least for now.

AT&T couldn’t be luckier if the deal becomes a referendum on whether the Trump Administration is opposing the deal as part of a personal political dispute. Suggesting it is “good news” for AT&T to go to court to win its merger may make AT&T feel better, but ordinary consumers and ratepayers are once again forgotten in the debate over media consolidation.

AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson: Sale of CNN never came up with Department of Justice from CNBC. (5:45)

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