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Three Grand an Hour? Probably Not But Expect AT&T To Spend Big Three Grand an Hour? Probably Not But Expect AT&T To Spend Big

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Congress / TECHNOLOGY

Three Grand an Hour? Probably Not But Expect AT&T To Spend Big

AT&T-T-Mobile merger logo(none)

May 19, 2011

Most expect that AT&T will spend a significant amount of money lobbying to get its proposed merger with T-Mobile approved by federal regulators but $3,000 an hour?

That's the figure one critic says AT&T has spent so far to get the deal approved by federal regulators. AT&T announced in late March its plans to buy the fourth biggest wireless carrier T-Mobile, sparking a major lobbying battle.

"AT&T is spending $3,000 an hour lobbying to pass this merger," Ernesto Falcon of the consumer's group Public Knowledge said during a webcast Thursday.

While AT&T's total lobbying tab of $6.8 million for the first quarter of this year does indeed boil down to more than $3,000 an hour, that figure includes lobbying on all the federal issues the company is following. In addition to lobbying in favor of the merger, AT&T listed a wide range of other issues on its lobbying disclosure form including patent, tax and health care issues as well as tech and telecom matters such as the Federal Communications Commission's open Internet proceeding and cybersecurity.

"I wouldn't disagree that maybe some of that lobbying money has been spent on tangent issues, but I can't imagine that it can be that much in comparison to preparing an army to launch and sell the merger," Falcon said in an e-mail response following the briefing.

Either way, AT&T is on pace to far surpass the total amount it spent last year on lobbying activities. AT&T spent $15.3 million lobbying in 2010, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.

Opponents of the merger, including many smaller wireless carriers, say they don't expect to match AT&T when it comes to lobbying dollars but they have moved aggressively to make their case that the merger will harm competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. Public Knowledge has joined the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Rural Cellular Association, the Rural Telecommunications Group, and others in launching a website opposing the AT&T-T-Mobile merger.

"I don't imagine we will have the same resources as AT&T," Cellular South's Ben Moncrief said during the Web briefing. "From our perspective as a small carrier, we recognize the enormous task" the company faces in trying to block the merger.

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