AT&T began its history as Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, a subsidiary of the Bell Telephone Company, founded by Alexander Graham Bell in 1877. The Bell Telephone Company evolved into American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1885, which later rebranded as AT&T Corporation. The 1982 United States v. AT&Tantitrust lawsuit resulted in the divestiture of AT&T Corporation's ("Ma Bell") subsidiaries or Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), commonly referred to as "Baby Bells", resulting in several independent companies, including Southwestern Bell Corporation; the latter changed its name to SBC Communications Inc. in 1995. In 2005, SBC purchased its former parent AT&T Corporation and took on its branding, with the merged entity naming itself AT&T Inc. and using its iconic logo and stock-trading symbol. In 2006, AT&T Inc. acquired BellSouth, the last independent Baby Bell company, making their formerly joint venture Cingular Wireless (which had acquired AT&T Wireless in 2004) wholly owned and rebranding it as AT&T Mobility.
In 1982, U.S. regulators broke up the AT&T monopoly, requiring AT&T to divest its regional subsidiaries and turning them each into individual companies. These new companies were known as Regional Bell Operating Companies, or more informally, Baby Bells. AT&T continued to operate long distance services, but as a result of this breakup, faced competition from new competitors such as MCI and Sprint.
Southwestern Bell was one of the companies created by the breakup of AT&T Corp. The architect of divestiture for Southwestern Bell was Robert G. Pope. The company soon started a series of acquisitions. This includes the 1987 acquisition of Metromedia mobile business and the acquisition of several cable companies in the early 1990s. In the later half of the 1990s, the company acquired several other telecommunications companies, including some Baby Bells, while selling its cable business. During this time, the company changed its name to SBC Communications. By 1998, the company was in the top 15 of the Fortune 500, and by 1999 the company was part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (lasting through 2015).
Purchase of former parent and acquisitions (2005–2014)
In 2005, SBC purchased AT&T for $16 billion. After this purchase, SBC adopted the better-known AT&T name and brand, with the original AT&T Corp. still existing as the long-distance landline subsidiary of the merged company. The current AT&T claims the original AT&T Corp.'s history (dating to 1885) as its own. However, it retains SBC's 1983-2005 corporate structure. It also retains SBC's pre-2005 stock price history, and all regulatory filings prior to 2005 are for Southwestern Bell/SBC, not AT&T Corp.
In July 2015, AT&T purchased DirecTV for $48.5 billion, or $67.1 billion including assumed debt, subject to certain conditions. AT&T subsequently announced plans to converge its existing U-verse home internet and IPTV brands with DirecTV, to create AT&T Entertainment.
On July 13, 2017, it was reported that AT&T would introduce a cloud-basedDVR streaming service as part of its effort to create a unified platform across DirecTV and its DirecTV Now streaming service, with U-verse to be added soon. In October 2018, it was announced that the service would launch in 2019. Named HBO Max, the service's release date was pushed to 2020.
On September 12, 2017, it was reported that AT&T planned to launch a new cable TV-like service for delivery over-the-top over its own or a competitor's broadband network sometime next year.
On March 7, 2018, the company prepared to sell a minority stake of DirecTV Latin America through an IPO, creating a new holding company for those assets named Vrio Corp. However, on April 18, just a day before the public debut of Vrio, AT&T canceled the IPO due to market conditions.
On June 12, 2018, AT&T was given permission by U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon to go ahead with its $85 billion deal for Time Warner. The DOJ had attempted to stop the merger fearing it would harm competition. The merger closed two days after, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary and division of AT&T with a new name, WarnerMedia, announced the next day.
Three months after completing the acquisition, AT&T reorganized into four main units: Communications, including consumer and business wireline telephony, AT&T Mobility, and consumer entertainment video services; WarnerMedia, including Turner cable television networks, Warner Bros. film and television production, and HBO; AT&T Latin America, consisting of wireless service in Mexico and video in Latin America and the Caribbean under the Vrio brand; and Advertising and Analytics, since renamed Xandr.
In September 2019, Elliott Management published a letter outlining its proposal for a "value-creation opportunity" at AT&T. The activist investor announces that it owns $3.2 billion of AT&T stock (a 1.2% equity interest), and asserts that the company could increase its share value through divestiture of some assets.
In October 2016, AT&T announced a deal to acquire Time Warner worth $85.4 billion (including assumed Time Warner debt). The proposed deal would give AT&T significant holdings in the media industry; AT&T's competitor Comcast had previously acquired NBCUniversal in a similar bid to increase its media holdings, in concert with its ownership of television and internet providers. If approved by federal regulators, the merger would bring Time Warner's properties under the same umbrella as AT&T's telecommunication holdings, including satellite provider DirecTV.
By the end of July, the company announced that, effective August 1, a new structure was created before the acquisition would close. On September 15, 2017, Reuters reported, citing anonymous sources, that AT&T, the owner of DIRECTV's U.S. and Latin American divisions, had hired an advisor to consider offering AT&T Latin America on the public stock market. In November 2017, the U.S. Justice Department said it was moving to sue to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger. On November 20, 2017, the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit over the acquisition; Makan Delrahim stated that the deal would "greatly harm American consumers". AT&T asserts that this suit is a "radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent". On December 22, 2017, the merger agreement deadline was extended to June 21, 2018. On April 19, 2018, the IPO was cancelled. On June 12, 2018, the AT&T-Time Warner merger was approved by a federal judge. Two days later, AT&T completed the acquisition of Time Warner, and a day later the company was renamed WarnerMedia.
On September 21, 2018, AT&T reclassified it four principal divisions which includes AT&T International which now have some assets moved out like the RSNs, an also merging Consumer Mobility, Technology and Business Mobility and renamed the company as AT&T Latin America.
On October 25, 2014, Frontier Communications took over control of the AT&T landline network in Connecticut after being approved by state utility regulators. The deal was worth about $2 billion, and included Frontier inheriting about 2,500 of AT&T's employees and many of AT&T's buildings.
The company is headquartered at Whitacre Tower in downtown Dallas, Texas. On June 27, 2008, AT&T announced that it would move its corporate headquarters from downtown San Antonio to One AT&T Plaza in downtown Dallas. The company said that it moved to gain better access to its customers and operations throughout the world, and to the key technology partners, suppliers, innovation and human resources needed as it continues to grow, domestically and internationally. AT&T Inc. previously relocated its corporate headquarters to San Antonio from St. Louis, Missouri, in 1992, when it was then named Southwestern Bell Corporation. The company's Telecom Operations group, which serves residential and regional business customers in 22 U.S. states, remains in San Antonio. Atlanta, Georgia, continues to be the headquarters for AT&T Mobility, with significant offices in Redmond, Washington, the former home of AT&T Wireless. Bedminster, New Jersey, is the headquarters for the company's Global Business Services group and AT&T Labs, and is where the original AT&T Corp. remains located. St. Louis continues as home to the company's Directory operations, AT&T Advertising Solutions.
AT&T offers also services in many locations throughout the Asia Pacific; its regional headquarters is located in Hong Kong. The company is also active in Mexico, and on November 7, 2014, it was announced that Mexican carrier Iusacell would be acquired by AT&T. The acquisition was approved in January 2015. On April 30, 2015, AT&T acquired wireless operations Nextel Mexico from NII Holdings (now AT&T Mexico).
During the period of 1998 to 2010, the company expended US$130 million on lobbying in the United States. A key political issue for AT&T has been the question of which businesses win the right to profit by providing broadband internet access in the United States. The company has also lobbied in support of several federal bills. AT&T supported the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 3675; 113th Congress), a bill that would make a number of changes to procedures that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) follows in its rulemaking processes. The FCC would have to act in a more transparent way as a result of this bill, forced to accept public input about regulations. AT&T's Executive Vice President of Federal Relations, Tim McKone, said that the bill's "much needed institutional reforms will help arm the agency with the tools to keep pace with the Internet speed of today's marketplace. It will also ensure that outmoded regulatory practices for today's competitive marketplace are properly placed in the dustbin of history."
In May 2018, reports emerged that AT&T made 12 monthly payments between January and December 2017 to Essential Consultants, a company set up by President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen, totaling $600,000. Although initial reports on May 8 mentioned only four monthly payments totaling $200,000, documents obtained by the Washington Post on May 10 confirmed the figure of 12 payments, which had begun three days after the President was sworn into office. AT&T confirmed the report the same day. The report from the Washington Post, as well as additional reporting from Bloomberg, revealed the payments had been made for Cohen to "provide guidance" relating to the attempted $85 billion merger with Time Warner, to gain information on the Trump administration's planned tax reforms, as well as about potential changes to net neutrality policies under the new FCC. However, Chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai denied Cohen ever inquired about net neutrality on AT&T's behalf. A spokesperson for AT&T said that the company had been contacted by the Special Counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller regarding the payments, and had provided all the information requested in November and December 2017.
The financial performance of the company is reported to shareholders on an annual basis and a matter of public record. Where performance has been restated, the most recent statement of performance from an annual report is used.
In September 2007, AT&T changed its legal policy to state that "AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice for conduct that AT&T believes ... (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries." By October 10, 2007, AT&T had altered the terms and conditions for its Internet service to explicitly support freedom of expression by its subscribers, after an outcry claiming the company had given itself the right to censor its subscribers' transmissions. Section 5.1 of AT&T's new terms of service now reads "AT&T respects freedom of expression and believes it is a foundation of our free society to express differing points of view. AT&T will not terminate, disconnect or suspend service because of the views you or we express on public policy matters, political issues or political campaigns."
Diagram of how alleged wiretapping worked. From EFF court filings
In July 2006, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California – in which the suit was filed – rejected a federal government motion to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss, which invoked the State Secrets Privilege, had argued that any court review of the alleged partnership between the federal government and AT&T would harm national security. The case was immediately appealed to the Ninth Circuit. It was dismissed on June 3, 2009, citing retroactive legislation in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In May 2006, USA Today reported that all international and domestic calling records had been handed over to the National Security Agency by AT&T, Verizon, SBC, and BellSouth for the purpose of creating a massive calling database. The portions of the new AT&T that had been part of SBC Communications before November 18, 2005, were not mentioned.
On August 22, 2007, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell confirmed that AT&T was one of the telecommunications companies that assisted with the government's warrantless wire-tapping program on calls between foreign and domestic sources.
On November 8, 2007, Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, told Keith Olbermann of MSNBC that all Internet traffic passing over AT&T lines was copied into a locked room at the company's San Francisco office – to which only employees with National Security Agency clearance had access.
AT&T keeps for five to seven years a record of who text messages whom and the date and time, but not the content of the messages.
In January 2008, the company reported plans to begin filtering all Internet traffic which passes through its network for intellectual property violations. Commentators in the media have speculated that if this plan is implemented, it would lead to a mass exodus of subscribers leaving AT&T, although this is misleading as Internet traffic may go through the company's network anyway. Internet freedom proponents used these developments as justification for government-mandated network neutrality.
Discrimination against local Public-access television channels
According to Barbara Popovic, Executive Director of the Chicago public-access service CAN-TV, the new AT&T U-verse system forced all Public-access television into a special menu system, denying normal functionality such as channel numbers, access to the standard program guide, and DVR recording. The Ratepayer Advocates division of the California Public Utilities Commission reported: "Instead of putting the stations on individual channels, AT&T has bundled community stations into a generic channel that can only be navigated through a complex and lengthy process."
Sue Buske (president of telecommunications consulting firm the Buske Group and a former head of the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers/Alliance for Community Media) argue that this is "an overall attack [...] on public access across the [United States], the place in the dial around cities and communities where people can make their own media in their own communities".
In June 2010, a hacker group known as Goatse Security discovered a vulnerability within AT&T that could allow anyone to uncover email addresses belonging to customers of AT&T 3G service for the AppleiPad. These email addresses could be accessed without a protective password. Using a script, Goatse Security collected thousands of email addresses from AT&T. Goatse Security informed AT&T about the security flaw through a third party. Goatse Security then disclosed around 114,000 of these emails to Gawker Media, which published an article about the security flaw and disclosure in Valleywag. Praetorian Security Group criticized the web application that Goatse Security exploited as "poorly designed".
In March 2012, the United States federal government announced a lawsuit against AT&T. The specific accusations state that AT&T "violated the False Claims Act by facilitating and seeking federal payment for IP Relay calls by international callers who were ineligible for the service and sought to use it for fraudulent purposes. The complaint alleges that, out of fears that fraudulent call volume would drop after the registration deadline, AT&T knowingly adopted a non-compliant registration system that did not verify whether the user was located within the United States. The complaint further contends that AT&T continued to employ this system even with the knowledge that it facilitated use of IP Relay by fraudulent foreign callers, which accounted for up to 95 percent of AT&T's call volume. The government's complaint alleges that AT&T improperly billed the TRS Fund for reimbursement of these calls and received millions of dollars in federal payments as a result."
On April 28, 2015, AT&T announced that it had fired Aaron Slator, President of Content and Advertising Sales, for sending racist text messages. Slator was also hit with a $100 million discrimination lawsuit, filed by African-American employee Knoyme King. The day before that, protesters arrived at AT&T's headquarters in Dallas and its satellite offices in Los Angeles as well as at the home of CEO Randall Stephenson to protest alleged systemic racial policies. According to accounts, the protesters are demanding AT&T begin working with 100% black-owned media companies.
In June 2016, Citigroup sued AT&T for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. The company had recently established a loyalty program under the brand AT&T Thanks, which Citigroup claims would cause consumer confusion as an infringement of its "ThankYou" and "Citi ThankYou" marks due to similar wording and visual design. Citi, which also provides a co-branded credit card for AT&T that links with its ThankYou rewards program, sought unspecified damages and the expungement of AT&T's trademark registration.
The suit was dismissed in August 2016, with a judge ruling that there was a low likelihood of confusion between the two marks because the companies fall within different industries, and that consumers who use loyalty programs would be able to "clearly take into account the attributes associated with the products they purchase" and, thus, be able to distinguish them.
^Svensson, Peter (September 29, 2011). "Document Shows How Phone Cos. Treat Private Data". Archived from the original on May 13, 2019. Retrieved May 13, 2019. T-Mobile USA doesn't keep any information on Web browsing activity. Verizon, on the other hand, keeps some information for up to a year that can be used to ascertain if a particular phone visited a particular Web site. According to the sheet, Sprint Nextel Corp.'s Virgin Mobile brand keeps the text content of text messages for three months. Verizon keeps it for three to five days. None of the other carriers keep texts at all, but they keep records of who texted who for more than a year. The document says AT&T keeps for five to seven years a record of who text messages who —and when, but not the content of the messages. Virgin Mobile only keeps that data for two to three months.