Bringing people together; splitting apart
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell announced his revolutionary invention with the words, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" American Telephone and Telegraph, first known as American Bell, has been making the world a smaller place ever since. The company scooped up Western Electric, the largest U.S. maker of electrical equipment, and dominated the telephone industry until 1968, when the FCC broke up its monopoly to allow competitors like MCI into the long-distance arena. Anti-trust litigation forced the company's historic break-up in 1984, establishing the seven "Baby Bell" local telephone companies, but allowing AT&T to keep its hold on the long-distance market.
In the wake of landmark deregulation in the telecommunication industry, AT&T once again split up in 1996, this time into three separate companies: AT&T, NCR, and Lucent Technologies. This move allows AT&T to concentrate on new communications opportunies such as cellular phone services, Internet access (through the company's WorldNet service), and personal communications operations such as e-mail.
The unified communications company
In June 1998, AT&T took its biggest step towards universal telecom service (just like in the old days) by purchasing the Colorado-based Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable television provider for $48 billion ($37.3 billion in cash and stock and the assumption of $11 billion in debt). Even though critics have suggested that AT&T overpaid and that it will take years for both companies to implement the necessary technology, AT&T is hoping to transmit local and long-distance telephone service, high-speed Internet access, and cable television over a superefficient network based on TCI's existing infrastructure. Also, the merger paves the way for AT&T to move more aggressively into providing local phone service. The company -- and others who want into the local markets -- have complained that despite the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was supposed to open local service to competition, local companies have not cooperated in leasing it facilities needed to provide services. That's why access to TCI's cable facilities is good news for AT&T as well as its customers.
Ma Bell goes online
In January 1999, the company announced it would spend $2 billion more than originally planned in order to speed up the process of upgrading TCI cable lines by the end of the year. AT&T intends to offer long distance and local phone service, Internet and cable-movie services over cable lines in 10 markets. The services will be offered in bundles for a fixed monthly fee, and the company will reward customers through a loyalty program, based on the number of services they sign up for.
Also that month, @Home Network, a TCI subsidiary, acquired Excite, one of the Web's most popular portal sites. The purchase expanded AT&T's interests on the Internet by adding an important portal and content brand to AT&T's Worldnet dial-up service.
Let's Get Ready to Rumble
In 1999 AT&T squared off against American Online in a large-scale war to become the leading ISP of the future. One of the most heated battles involved issue of open access. AT&T made its cable purchases in hopes that, at one point the majority of Internet users would use high-speed cable lines rather than low-bandwidth phone lines. In this case, AT&T's stake in cable modem provider @Home and multitude of cable holdings would give its WorldNet the upper hand on the slower dial up access provided by AOL, the current prevailing ISP. But in an attempt to gain access cable connections, AOL tried to use the courts to force AT&T to provide AOL and other rival ISPs equal access to its infrastructure. Currently, subscribers to AT&T cable services are required to use Excite@home for their ISP until at least mid-2002.
Federal court rulings in Portland, Oregon (June 1999) and in Broward county, Florida (July 1999) have coerced AT&T to allow rivals to utilize its cable lines at the same cost the company grants itself. Several similar suits are still pending, including one filed in October 1999 by competitor GTE. Unless the Federal Communications Commission decides to act, the issue will have to be resolved at the local level on a case by case basis. For now, AT&T is continuing to position itself for the broadband future. In September 1999 the company bought two million set-top boxes from General Instrument and one million cable modems from General Instrument's merger partner, Motorola.
Claiming its territory
But Ma Bell wasn't done there, at least in terms of sticking it to AOL. It is paying $1.4 billion to acquire a stake in IDT's Net2Phone, technology that allows users to make long distance calls over the Internet. AOL had been working with Net2Phone to develop voice capabilities for AOL's popular Instant Messenger technology.
In September 1999 AT&T announced a hiring freeze and plans to reduce its labor force in the public and private long-distance units. The company claimed that the streamlining efforts resulted from earlier expansion, with the goal now of slashing $2 billion in expenses by the end of 2000. But many speculated that the slashing of prices by long-distance rival MCI hastened the cutback decision. Additionally, AT&T has begun outsourcing some of its jobs, including 3,500 software technicians to Computer Sciences Corp. Many are wondering whether this trend will continue, especially since the now outsourced workers lose many of their AT&T perks, including retirement benefits.
Jolly good then
AT&T and British Telecom formed a mobile communications alliance in September 1999 to provide worldwide mobile communication access. The alliance is part of a larger, $10 billion global agreement that includes standard phone and internet services in addition to wireless communications.
Hola, soy AT&T
Following the lead of other telecommunications leaders, Ma Bell formed AT&T Latin America in June 2000 through a series of acquistions and mergers. The company is planning on investing $500 million over five years in the region, and will focus more on business accounts rather than individual households. Using its stakes in FirstCom and Netstream, AT&T will control more than 70 percent of business telecommunications in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. Along with FirstCom Corp., the company plans to create 2,000 jobs in Argentina to develop AT&T's recently acquired Keytech LD.
Bet you can't acquire just one
In June 2000, the FCC approved AT&T's $45 billion acquisition of broadband communications operator MediaOne, giving the company the green light to create the nation's largest cable, telephone and high speed Internet company. Because government regulation forbids any corporation from having interests in more than 30 percent of the nation's cable market, the the FCC forced AT&T to sell off some of its programming and cable assets. Without any divestitures, the FCC estimated that the new company would have controlled more than 40 percent of the industry.
AT&T and MediaOne eventually decided to sell off their interests in Road Runner, the nation's second-largest cable Internet service. However, the FCC later ordered another round of divestitures. The FCC gave AT&T and MediaOne a year to choose from three options to meet the 30 percent limit. They could either get rid of their interest in programming company Liberty Media Group, their 25 percent chunk of Time Warner Entertainment, or they could sell off enough individual cable systems around the nation to bring their share of the market down to 30 percent.
Despite the anti-trust hassles, AT&T wasn't done with the acquisitions yet. The company purchased $3.3 billion worth of wireless systems in the San Francisco, San Diego and Houston markets. In San Francisco, AT&T secured the remaining interest in a wireless partnership from Vodafone AirTouch. In San Diego, it picked up GTE's wireless operations. And in Houston, the company purchased the system owned by closely-held PrimeCo PCS. The deal will add 1.3 million wireless customers to the telephone giant's customer base and gives it a foothold in the last three cities in the top 15 U.S. service markets without AT&T wireless service.
In July 2000, the wireless division of AT&T announced a new technology called Project Angel that would compete with DSL and cable modems. Project Angel will allow AT&T to supply telephone service to customers' homes without paying access fees to the local telephone company. The wireless broadband technology uses a base station mounted on cell phone sites or buildings to beam signals to antennae mounted on consumers' homes.
AT&T Wireless Services also made an agreement with AOL that would offer its subscribers AOL's most popular services, such as e-mail, news, weather and stock quotes.
But AT&T in at least one respect shares the same crises that rival AOL had suffered earlier in the decade. AT&T now faces a class-action lawsuit stemming from particulary poor cellular service. AT&T's excuse? An intense marketing blitz targeting new customers resulted in too many people for the networks to could handle. Sound familiar?
AT&T accepts resumes via regular and e-mail. The company is organized into operating units that hire separately. Visit the company's recruitment web page, located at www.att.com/hr, to learn about current openings, obtain contact names and addresses, or construct a resume on-line. Resumes are scanned into a central database, where they remain for up to nine months. Those applicants that AT&T contacts are scheduled for interviews and then referred to a particular operating unit for further reviews. Chosen candidates may then be asked to take a written test and invited to an on-site visit. AT&T also conducts campus visits; the company's web site provides a schedule.
AT&T is described as having a casual and relaxed atmosphere that stresses teamwork. "It was very informal, with an open door policy." Says another: "The people are for the most part genuinely friendly and willing to help out with a problem, even if it's not their problem." This informal atmosphere extends to a generally casual dress code, flexible hours, and great telecommuting options. Reports one insider about the dress code: "I would say 99 percent of the locations have casual business dress on Fridays. At about 75 percent of the locations, you have business casual every day, unless you have a special meeting." Flexible hours? "You can come in anytime between 7 and 9:30. They also have a compressed workweek program where you work 40 hours in four hours in four days and get a day off every week, or work 80 hours in 9 days and get a day off every two weeks." And as for telecommuting, more than 28,000 of the company's employees telecommute regularly.
Big company blues
But make no mistake about it -- AT&T is a big company. Just because people are willing to help doesn't mean the system speeds things along, insiders tell us. "It's very bureaucratic," says one insider. "It's hard to get to do what you really want to do." Says a former employee: "It took forever to make a decision." And with the big-company culture comes some politics. "There is some resentment of young hires by others because it is perceived that we are on the "fast track" and get more perks. I'm not sure that that's untrue, but I don't think that they need to resent us for it."
You don't have an excuse not to call home
Perks at AT&T are plentiful. Of course, there's the free long distance. One former employee reports receiving the first $35 per month free, and a 50/50 split with the company for the next $65. Another reports discounts up to $67.50 a month. The company also sponsors a stock purchase plan that lets employees buy its stock at "15 percent below the market." Pay is considered above average, "but consulting and I-banking salaries you won't draw. On the other hand, you won't be working those crazy hours either."
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