AT&T, T-Mobile merger sparks comms efforts

DALLAS: AT&T has secured support from several key stakeholders in its pursuit to win approval from federal antitrust regulators of its $39 billion acquisition of Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA.

DALLAS:  AT&T has secured support from several key stakeholders in its pursuit to win approval from federal antitrust regulators of its $39 billion acquisition of Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA.

AT&T will likely need the help, as the marriage of the second- and fourth-largest wireless carriers is already facing opposition from competitor Sprint and a number of consumer groups, which argue the union is anti-competitive and could lead to job losses and higher prices.

The merged company would have 130 million customers, ahead of Verizon, which now has 94 million. 

“This deal will probably be scrutinized more closely than any deal brought before the Obama administration to date,” says Jeffrey Silva, senior policy director, telecommunications, media and technology for Medley Global Advisors. “For all the lobbying you might hear of now, you've probably seen nothing yet. AT&T will pull out all the stops.”

To announce the deal, AT&T created a Web site, www.mobilizeeverything.com, which includes sections for investors, customers, and communities. The site also includes executive videos, FAQs, and a "Know the Facts" section, which has a list of competitors in various cities to show the market is, and will remain, competitive if the merger is approved.

AT&T has tapped Brunswick Group for PR support, which referred calls to the client. Brad Burns, who works in the communications department for AT&T, declined comment, as did Fleishman-Hillard, one of AT&T's primary agencies. 

However, the Wall Street Journal reports the company, which employed 90 lobbyists in 2010, has one of the most muscular lobbying operations in Washington.

The proposed deal also has the backing of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the union representing more than 700,000 members including many AT&T employees. Most T-Mobile employees are not unionized.

In its communications, the CWA says the merger would help stimulate the economy by building out high-speed broadband service to 95% of the country.  In addition to issuing a statement on its Web site, CWA president Larry Cohen wrote a blog posting for congressional newspaper, The Hill. CWA subsequently posted the column on its Speed Matters blog, which launched five years ago to advocate for affordable, high-speed Internet for all Americans.

Candice Johnson, communications director for CWA, tells PRWeek this is just the start of a long-term push in support of the telecom union, given the regulatory review could take as long as 18 months. “We have Facebook and will be expanding our message there” says Johnson, in addition to its other social media channels, such as Twitter.

She says CWA officials have also been meeting with key officials on Capitol Hill, and briefing key allies, particularly ethnic minority groups like the NAACP, which issued a statement in support of the merger.

“We're talking about the benefits, but also what would happen if we don't build out [high-speed broadband communications],” says Johnson. “It really has become the economic engine of this century just as the highway system was in the 1900s.”

Currently, communications around the issue is being handled in-house, but she says the CWA may bring in outside partners. “I am just sorting through who to bring on board,” says Johnson.

For its part, T-Mobile is working with Waggener Edstrom. An executive at the agency, who declined to be named, said T-Mobile is reassuring customers about the deal through its call centers, stores, and on its Web site, as well as through its online customer forums.

While Sprint has expressed opposition to the merger, Verizon has no plans to oppose the deal, Peter Thonis, chief communications officer at Verizon, tells PRWeek in an e-mail.

“This is a logical move for ATT and T-Mobile given their strategic needs,” he writes. “We're happy with where we are as a company since we have world-class and unmatched network assets, and no material needs as a result. We'll continue to execute our existing strategy.”  

“We've let reporters and financial analysts know that,” he adds.

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