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By Todd Shields and Jonathan D. Salant
WASHINGTON - AT&T Inc. increased its lobbying expenditures by 31 percent last year as it mounted a failed campaign to win U.S. approval of its proposed $39 billion acquisition of rival T-Mobile USA Inc.
AT&T, the second-largest U.S. wireless company, spent $20.2 million in 2011, up from $15.4 million in 2010, according to U.S. Senate filings released today. T-Mobile, a unit of Bonn- based Deutsche Telekom AG and the fourth-largest U.S. mobile provider, boosted its lobbying to $4.2 million in 2011 from $3 million a year earlier, an increase of 40 percent.
The scuttled purchase of T-Mobile would have made AT&T the largest U.S. wireless carrier and increased its holdings of airwaves needed to meet surging demand by users of tablet computers and smartphones. Now it faces tougher routes to overtake market leader Verizon Wireless, with possibilities that include waiting for the government to free airwaves for auction.
Since 1998, Dallas-based AT&T has spent $135 million on lobbying, seventh-most among corporations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. AT&T’s rival, New York-based Verizon Communications Inc., the second-largest U.S. phone company, has spent $164 million and ranks fourth among corporations, according to figures from the center.
Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc, based in Newbury, England, jointly own Verizon Wireless, based in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
Michael Balmoris, a Washington-based AT&T spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The figures reported today include spending by both in- house lobbyists and outside groups hired to try to influence Congress and the federal agencies.
While lawmakers don’t play a direct role in merger approvals, they control the budgets of the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission and keep watch over the agencies that vetted the deal. They also can push for government approval of merger proposals; of 117 lawmakers who signed letters urging President Barack Obama’s administration to approve the T-Mobile deal, 116 received campaign donations from AT&T’s political action committee.
The third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, Sprint Nextel Corp., which worked to block AT&T’s deal, boosted its lobbying spending by 52 percent to $3.8 million. The Overland Park, Kansas-based company spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 2010.
AT&T abandoned the proposed purchase of T-Mobile on Dec. 19, after the Justice Department sued to block the transaction and the FCC moved to oppose it.
The company failed to alleviate Justice Department concerns about potentially decreased competition, and didn’t persuade the FCC the deal would add jobs or significantly speed deployment of high-speed Internet service, officials of the agencies said in briefings.
“Lobbying only works to a point,” John Dunbar, a managing editor at the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit research group, said in an interview. “At the end of the day, you’re going to leave a bunch of regulators in a position where they’d have to say getting rid of a competitor is good for competition. I don’t think they could figure out a way to get there.”