For years, top AT&T Lobbyist Jim Cicconi was the man that drove much of the telco's controversial policy apparatus, most recently the company's successful quest to kill net neutrality and effectively neuter the FCC. Cicconi's charm was frequently on display in his blog posts whining about things like the FCC increasing the speed definition of "broadband", or in the company's astroturfing efforts to undermine most if not all consumer protections governing the telecom sector (though it's worth noting he wasn't particularly, personally keen on Donald Trump).
Cicconi retired a few years back, but his successor Bob Quinn didn't have an easy go of it. Quinn was fired after reports emerged that the company had paid former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen $600,000 (using the same shell company used to pay hush money to Trump’s alleged former partner Stormy Daniels) to gain additional access to the President, something AT&T called a "serious misjudgement." As a result, AT&T's entire External & Legislative Affairs (E&LA) group instead began reporting to AT&T General Counsel David McAtee to, one would assume, keep the unit on a more legal trajectory.
But this week AT&T quietly brought Cicconi back from retirement to tackle something that has apparently spooked the telecom giant:
"Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s long-time top policy exec who retired in September 2018, is back, at least temporarily, according to an internal AT&T note confirmed by a sources. AT&T said that move was made "given the pressing legislative and regulatory agenda we face in Washington D.C. and elsewhere." Cicconi Monday (Sept. 16) returned to AT&T Washington on an interim basis as senior executive VP or external and legislative affairs, reporting to AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson.
Plenty of things may have spooked AT&T enough to warrant bringing their former top lobbyist out of retirement, even if AT&T has been a historic beneficiary of (unearned) tax breaks and regulatory favors in the Trump era.
One, the company is facing a growing investor revolt due to ongoing TV subscriber losses and the growing sense that just maybe spending $150 billion on mergers (making AT&T the most indebted company in the world) may not have been the best choice. AT&T saddled itself with debt to dominate the streaming space, only to find subscribers running to the exits in the wake of company decisions to raise rates to pay off said debt. AT&T's problems are compounded on that front by an array of new, overcomplicated brand offerings that have even confused AT&T.
There's several other issues that could be making AT&T nervous, not least of which is growing calls for more meaningful privacy legislation in the wake of endless hack and location data scandals. AT&T lobbyists successfully convinced Congress to kill modest FCC rules on that front a few years ago. They've also been hugely successful in convincing lawmakers that "big tech" should be the exclusive focus of Congressional, regulatory, and antitrust scrutiny while telecom gets a free pass. But efforts in California to pass tougher privacy rules (despite the flawed and rushed nature of some of the language) may be making AT&T brass nervous.
AT&T execs are also likely nervous about a looming decision in the 23 AG lawsuit against the FCC (for repealing net neutrality without basing said decision on, you know, actual facts). Should the FCC lose that lawsuit (a ruling in which is expected to drop any day now), some or all of the FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules (and corresponding authority) would be restored, and Cicconi is likely the perfect candidate to complain endlessly about the terrible unfairness of AT&T not getting its way in press and policy venues.
Filed Under: bob quinn, jim cicconi, lobbyingCompanies: at&t