Communication industry on the verge of convergence

Colleen Watson

With the Internet emerging as a primary means of communication, an AT&T official spoke yesterday about net neutrality, video options and how political interest groups are shaping corporate strategies.

William Oliver, senior vice president of public affairs for AT&T, served as this semester’s second speaker in the Pilliod Lecture Series.

Goodyear Executive Professor Gregory Hackett explained the value of Oliver’s speech: “One of the biggest forces business will have to face in the future is political interest groups. These groups are getting louder and louder and harassing corporations. Future business leaders will need to know how to deal with these interest groups.”

After explaining AT&T’s history and position as a global communications service provider, Oliver moved on to the more intricate details of his speech. He explained that 10 years ago his industry realized that “all voice communications of the future will travel the world in packets across Internet-based networks.”

Today cable companies offer package deals including cable, Internet and phone services. With competition from cable companies, businesses that used to only offer phone services, such as AT&T, have been forced to upgrade their services.

Oliver said AT&T is committed to offering “Internet protocol” television, a service that will fuse cable, phone and Internet. All three will be used simultaneously, rather than as separate offerings in a package deal. For example, a caller ID on the telephone would pop up on the television.

Oliver transitioned into the recent challenges AT&T has faced in implementing its new idea. The biggest challenge, he said, came from the opposing cable companies.

The company wants video franchising reform to open up the market. Nine states have reformed their laws, and one state has pending legislation. AT&T hopes to see Ohio’s laws changed in the next year.

“When we set out to convince Congress and state legislatures to reform the video franchising system, we knew we had to utilize all of these new tools,” Oliver said. “And we have, without abandoning some of the more traditional methods of advocacy.”

Oliver then explained the five components AT&T uses when conducting campaigns on the issues the company cares about: opinion research, opposition research, activating its base of allies, advertising and impacting the news cycle.

Oliver said his speech was a “story without an ending.” Much of what AT&T is trying to reform in terms of video franchising and net neutrality has yet to be completed.

And while the future may be up the air, Oliver knew what AT&T would be doing.

“Next year, we will energetically continue to practice the arts and sciences of public affairs in pursuit of the issues we care about,” he said.

Freshman fashion merchandising major Chad Schayes found a purpose in Oliver’s speech, one that echoed Professor Hackett’s.

“(He discussed) certain attributes that students should work on to be prepared for business in the future,” Schayes said.

Contact College of Business Administration reporter Colleen Watson at [email protected].