AT&T’s Corporate Social Responsibility Policy
Telecommunication companies all over the world provide fixed and mobile telephone services. Each enterprise develops a particular approach to its business operations in order to gain loyalty of customers and develop a general vision of the company’s role and future perspectives. AT&T, which operates is the USA, is considered to be the largest company of its kind in the world. Corporate Social Responsibility plays an important role in forming image and business model of AT&T with its own history and features, along with challenges in the form of the net neutrality campaign, current policy, and plans for future development.
Corporate Social Responsibility Approach Overview
AT&T has a long history. The company itself was founded in 1877, and its origin comes from the firm known as the Bell Telephone Company at that time (Sandoval, 2014). Twenty years later, the AT&T Company took over the Bell Telephone Company and became the monopolist in the US telecommunication market. However, after the implementation of the antitrust law, AT&T was divided into several Baby Bells, regional telecommunication companies. According to the data from the Forbes Magazine, the company occupied the fourteenth position among the biggest corporations in the world based on its profit that amounted to over 20 billion dollars in 2010 (Sandoval, 2014). Thus, AT&T managed to become a powerful company over two hundred years of development.
Corporate Social Responsibility policy has its own history and features. In 2006, AT&T began to publish its Corporate Social Responsibility reports (Sandoval, 2014). As a result, the tradition to release such kind of report every year was established. The main objective of these reports is to present the company as an enterprise that combines rationality and responsibility together with a strong business sense. CSR Communications pursue two main aims in its work: to demonstrate and underline the CSR’s instrumental value, and to bring benefits to the society. In general, the central goal of AT&T as an enterprise is to reach global and individual goal that is to ensure better sustainability and greater success of the firm. In further reports as of 2009, the company started to stress the importance of addressing business and society needs simultaneously (Sandoval, 2014). The particular way of demonstrating the company’s connection with its customers and reaching its own needs is the employment of veterans. For example, in 2013 AT&T provided workplaces to 5,000 veterans. According to the future plans, 20,000 ex-soldiers will have been employed by 2020 (Nodine, 2017). Moreover, the company stresses the fact that its senior managers working in different areas provide support to the current employees who belong to the National or Reserve Guard (Nodine, 2017). As a result, the AT&T has a dualistic perception of CSR’s role that is currently developed.
Several factors are emphasized and used by AT&T in order to reach CSR. In order to establish the image of the company and prove its credibility, the company leaders underline a long social responsibility tradition and history: “Since our company was created, we have dedicated ourselves to satisfying customers, enriching stockholders and meeting the needs of society” (Sandoval, 2014, p. 111). Moreover, the enterprise refers to every action that can be considered as evidences of social responsibility. For instance, the 2008 report comprises such positive things as the implementation of an employee benefits program in as early as 1913, actions taken to ensure long distance calls during the World Was II to provide families and soldiers with a means of communication, the introduction of environment preservation initiative, and purchasing of alternative-fuel vehicles (Sandoval, 2014). At the same time, the company refers to such issues as the impact of responsible and good citizens on the well-being of the company as well as a model of business sustainability development as crucial factors of the company’s success (Sandoval, 2014). Thus, AT&T demonstrates its advantages based on history, positive upshots of its activities, and the role of one’s individual contribution in CSR’s success.
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AT&T has a specific approach to selecting CSR focus areas. First, the enterprise underlines the fact that all existing and potential CSR issues cannot be resolved at once. As a result, the attention should be largely paid to the issues that may bring the maximum benefits and all resources should be used in order to reach that goal. Moreover, during the selection process three main characteristics are taken into account such as the importance to stakeholders, business relevance, and the capability to act in a meaningful way. The first two elements, the importance to stakeholders and business relevance, are interpreted as a “strategic materiality assessment” (Sandoval, 2014, p. 111). AT&T renders media’s, governmental, customers’, investors’ and NGO’s statements and reports as the source of stakeholders’ opinion. In order to get an insight on the business relevance issue the senior executives are questioned. For instance, according to the regular evaluation of the customers’ opinion, the most efficient issues in AT&T are privacy and data security, innovation, company energy use, and employee diversity. In contrast, the things like environmental pollution such as wastes and ozone depleting emissions, compensation benefits, mobile theft, working hours and wages are listed among the most negative aspects of work in AT&T (Sandoval, 2014). Thus, many factors are encountered during the CSR designation and modification.
Net Neutrality Issue
AT&T also provides Internet communication that has caused the net neutrality argument and questioned positive CSR image of the company. For instance, almost 40% of the whole wireline Internet market in the USA was owned by AT&T in 2011, while Verizon as the main competitor of the company had only 25% (Sandoval, 2014). As a result, the problem of Internet market control provoked vivid discussions in the society. Many public activists call for the need to restrict AT&T activities, and monitor them more carefully, which stands for the need to implement net neutrality. According to its definition, net neutrality is the state “when internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all websites and Internet technologies” (Sandoval, 2014, p.113). Consequently, in case the company starts manipulating or changing the content of Internet resources, this can directly lead to limitations of the freedom of expression and undermine the whole CSR approach. Thus, AT&T predominance in the US Internet market caused the fear of possible abuse and provoked debates on the need to implement net neutrality.
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US government made an attempt to regulate the issue of possible Internet content manipulations, but it failed to achieve effective results. In 2005, the first step was made towards the net neutrality issue when its core principles were defined. Four years later, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) made an attempt to introduce certain regulations in this field (Sandoval, 2014). Realizing the possible consequences of such enforcements, telecommunication corporations started lobbying their interests and putting pressure on governmental institutions. For instance, AT&T organized and participated in the “Hands off the Internet” campaign to oppose net neutrality policy implementation. Finally, in 2011 regulations were adopted, however, they significantly differed from the original version and were generally much more tenuous (Sandoval, 2014). Thus, governmental attempts to regulate net neutrality issue failed, which was partially caused by the efforts of AT&T.
Several arguments were used by AT&T to explain its position in regard to anti-regulation activities. First, the company underlined the fact that the Internet is perfectly working without any regulations, and the implementation of any additional policies can only harm the market and the services provided. Second, AT&T pointed to the market’s self-regulation principle. For instance, consumers are at the center of the market and this is what makes the market itself create all necessary regulations without any intervention from the outside. Third, the infrastructure and jobs in the sector were under a possible threat on the part of new regulations that could slow down the process of providing broadband Internet access. Finally, AT&T speculated on the fact that the implementation of the new regulations would allow giant Internet corporations such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! not to pay charges and exploit broadband services for free. In fact, none of CSR communications discussed the issue of net neutrality. The company publically rejected this idea several times. Moreover, all level managers and some employees received the information note from the executives to inform FCC of their opposition to the net neutrality (Sandoval, 2014). Thus, AT&T presented the argumentation of its discountenance with the net neutrality implementation.
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At the same time, Free Press as the main activist for the net neutrality introduction presented several counterarguments to AT&T judgments. The reason why the Internet flourishes is considered to be based on net neutrality and the on-going policy of not allowing any kind of gatekeeper to monitor and control the network. The idea of self-regulated market is also far from truth. For example, in case no regulation is implemented, the company that controls the Internet will be able to put any desirable price for online advertisement and no one will stop it from doing that. Moreover, net neutrality creates conditions for future investments and serves as the basis for equal access to the content creation. Furthermore, the statement that such a big corporation would benefit from new regulations is not true because, as a rule, wide-scale enterprises support net neutrality that can protect the customers and provide a quality content and service to them (Sandoval, 2014). Thus, the issue of net neutrality is not as simple as it was explained by AT&T and the counterarguments prove it.
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AT&T Current Situation
Currently, AT&T still pays a lot of attention to its CSR. According to 2016 Annual Sustainability Update (2017), two main directions such as providing students with an opportunity to realize their dreams and connecting employees to their communities were central during the previous year. For instance, AT&T Aspire was used by employees and students in order to hold mentoring events for the period of 1.5 million hours in total (AT&T, 2017). Moreover, over five million hours were spent by the company’s employees on retiree and employee volunteer programs with the purpose of supporting and encouraging people who need this service (AT&T, 20178). Furthermore, AT&T financed such campaigns as Employee Giving Campaign by providing pledges to employees and It Can Wait Campaign when the message not to keep eyes on the phone, but on the road was distributed (AT&T, 2017). Thus, such actions were taken to strengthen the company’s CSR based on business and society needs.
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At the same time, the company mentioned its Network & Customers 2020 and 2025 Goals. First, the AT&T Company plans to reduce CO2 emission by 20% and reduce the electricity consumption level by 40% (AT&T, 2017). Second, the methodology for the network influence on society will be analyzed in order to make corrections and improvements in it (AT&T, 2017). Third, such goals as the expansion of customers’ Internet access locations, broadband service provision in 21 states, and quality Internet connection supplementation in libraries are planned to be attained by 2020 (AT&T, 2017). Furthermore, environmental preservation measures such as devices collection for recycling, alternative technologies implementation, and provision of information on environment’s preservation will also be taken. Till 2025, AT&T plans to reach “net positive ratio” (AT&T, 2017). Finally, special attention is given to the communities’ development in terms of education with the help of technology application. Company’s ultimate goal in this area is to provide 60% of Americans with the ability to get credentials or post-secondary education online by 2025 (AT&T, 2017). Thus, AT&T future plans are very promising and are likely to improve the company’s CSR image.
AT&T is the world’s leading telecommunication company that was founded over two hundred years ago. At first, AT&T was a small company that transformed into monopolist at certain point of its development and now consists of various regional firms that control a significant part of the US market. One of the major achievements of the company is its development of CSR. The core advantage of this AT&T’s approach is the combination of the interests regarding business prosperity and the general needs of customers and civil society. Moreover, such factors as long traced social responsibility tradition, along with the positive role and impact of responsible citizens are some of the important determinates of CSR approach. At the same time, a particular model is used while designing CRS and opinions of various stakeholders in relation to the company’s performance are taken into account as well.
Net neutrality appeared as the challenge to the CSR vision. The biggest concern about the net neutrality is that if no relevant action or regulation is implemented, the Internet content would be controlled by those who can pay for online visibility. As a result, big enterprises with big budget and almost unlimited resources will start dictating what people should watch, read, and buy in the Internet. This situation together with other factors addressed the AT&T vision and business model demonstrated that the company is ready to do everything in order to protect its interests in case its arguments appear not to be trustworthy.
In 2016, AT&T continued to implement its policy based on customers’ and business’ needs. Several events and campaigns were organized in order to prove and sustain its image as the social responsible company. Furthermore, the company determined future goals for its development by 2020 and 2025 and will further work on the enhancement of CSR.