By: Akanksha A. Panicker
AT&T Inc. is the world’s leading telecommunications service and the second leading cell phone service provider. In 2018, AT &T became the parent organization of popular culture and mass media giant WarnerMedia, rendering it one of the biggest global media and production companies when it comes to sales. The multimedia conglomerate is a Delaware-registered American international corporation holding firm based in Downtown Dallas, Texas.
AT&T Inc. is among the leading telecommunications providers, earning its revenue by virtue of being a controlling firm that offers multinational telecommunications, advertising, and infrastructure services.
[1.0] AT&T AND ITS DIVISIONS
AT&T provides a diverse selection of goods and services that differ by sector and functions in three reportable industry segments. These industry segments comprise AT&T’s units.
- AT&T Communications: AT&T Communications provides mobile, broadband, video, and other communications services to U.S.-based consumers and over a million companies globally — from the smallest business to nearly all the Fortune 1000 companies. The Communications segment provides companies and customers with a wide variety of packaged goods. AT& T Mobility offers cellular networks and hardware while Video provides subscription services and promotes multi-platform advertisement content. Additionally, Broadband provides network and legacy mobile network access and Business Wireline provides specialized IP-based facilities along with speech and communication services.
- WarnerMedia: WarnerMedia is a leading media and entertainment company that creates and distributes premium and popular content from a diverse array of talented storytellers and journalists to global audiences through its consumer brands. The WarnerMedia division creates, publishes, and distributes feature films, tv shows, video games, as well as other material in a variety of personal and interactive forms. It comprises Turner, which runs multichannel basic TV networks and digital assets and sells advertisements; Home Box Office, which provides premium pay-TV as well as the HBO Max subscription platform and worldwide streaming; and Viacom, which manages omnichannel basic Television networks and digital properties and sells advertisement. WarnerMedia also comprises Warner Bros., which manufactures, distributes, and licenses television programming and feature films, as well as distributes other home media and gaming items
- AT&T Latin America: AT&T Latin America offers mobile services to people and businesses in Mexico and digital entertainment services in South America and the Caribbean. The platform’s Vrio unit provides video services to residential users in Latin America and the Caribbean through satellite and streaming technology. Its Mexico unit provides cellular access and facilities to Mexican clients.
- Xandr: Xandr provides marketers with advanced advertising solutions enhanced with valuable customer insights from AT&T’s TV, mobile and broadband services, combined with extensive ad inventory including WarnerMedia’s cable networks and premium content from third-party media brands
AT&T is divided into three major market segments: Communications, WarnerMedia, and Latin America. It delineates the sales and operating profits in most of the said divisions. The group often publishes performance reports for a Corporate and Other division, which unifies the abovementioned divisions’ results with AT&T’s overarching goals and contains numerous capital expenditures, acquisition-related products, eliminations and mergers and acquisitions, and some other important items.
[1.1] HISTORY AND BACKGROUND OF AT&T
AT&T Inc. was established in 1878 as the American District Telegraph Company. Via a number of mergers, it expanded its services, becoming Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in 1920. The latter was the successor to Alexander Graham Bell’s initial Bell Telephone Company, which was established in 1877. In 1885, the American Bell Telephone Company founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) subsidiary, later taking up the mantle of the parent company and renaming itself to AT&T Corp.
The 1982 antitrust case, United States v. AT&T, culminated in the divestiture of AT&T’s (Ma Bell’) local operating divisions, erstwhile organized into seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs.) Interestingly, these RBOCs were colloquially known as ‘Baby Bells.’
The divestiture resulted in seven separate companies, including Southwestern Bell Corporation (SBC). SBC later absorbed the previous parent company, AT&T Corp., in 2005, and adopted its name, calling the merged firm AT&T Inc.
AT&T Inc. later purchased BellSouth Corporation in 2006, the penultimate independent Baby Bell group, and rebranded the previously joint project Cingular Wireless (which had absorbed AT&T Wireless in 2004) as AT&T Mobility.
[2.0] HOW TO SERVE A SUBPOENA ON AT&T
It is highly important to address the subpoena to the appropriate AT&T Legal Entity. AT& T’s different subsidiaries have different compliance centers that are to process subpoenas. For example, AT&T Mobility, LLC would render subpoenas to the National Compliance Centre, and AT&T Wireless (AW) would levy it upon the National Subpoena and Court Order Compliance Centre (NSCC). Both of these centers are a team of specialized, wireless subpoena and court order compliance professionals who are tasked with providing law enforcement, officers of the court, Public Safety Answering Points, and other legal contacts with customer service in the wireless industry. These Centres respond to all subpoena, search warrant, and court-ordered requests nationwide for wireless customer records.
The entire requirement of the compliance centers is to conform with the civil and criminal process and provide assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, attorneys, and customers pursuant to that process. Every subpoena must include [A.] the text of FRCP 45(c) and (d), which set out the witness’ rights and duties in responding, objecting, or moving to quash the subpoena, [B.] time and place for either the production or inspection of documents or for attendance at a hearing, trial or deposition (known as the return date), [C.] categories of documents sought (if the subpoena commands the production or inspection of documents) and [D.] the method for recording testimony (if the subpoena seeks testimony.) AT&T currently charges USD 40 per hour to process subpoenas. An email address is required for a response.
AT& T additionally devotes an entire website in order to properly comply with their subpoenas. To a large extent, AT& T does not accept subpoenas via mail, although faxing the subpoena circumvents this situation. It must be noted that sensitive information like cellular site or the tower location or phone location cannot be provided by AT &T without a court order.
It is important to include a full description of the information requested using the same wording as the online form whenever possible for requested account information. This would be relevant for sensitive information like that of the subscriber or their usage records and timeframes for outgoing calls. The information required should be specific and include a complete listing of target telephone numbers including area code as well as an electronic method for return of records produced. This return method is acceptable whether it is an email address or fax number. Upon levying the legal process, it is necessary to use the corresponding AT&T legal entity/affiliate fax number. For process Service and fax, it is also possible to use the ‘online tool’ for certain requests in order to expedite them.
[3.0] HOW DOES AT&T COMPLY WTH FOIA REQUESTS
AT&T and its subsidiaries are bound by statute to cooperate with judicial proceedings, subpoenas, statutory search demands, and other legal provisions in an effort to supply access to government and law enforcement agencies, as well as parties to civil cases. AT&T publishes a Transparency Report that includes [A.] clear detail on the amount and categories of legal demands to which it replied in the particular half of the year that the information is furnished for as well as [B.] details allowed by statute to be published about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act demands in the preceding sector that can be released in the latter half of the year.
The Transparency Report also includes reports on legal demands that were partly or fully denied, as well as requests for location information, emergency requests, and foreign legal demands. Release of the Transparency report and the detail of the legal demands within the same would often require AT&T to include details about [A.] correspondence and requested communication and [B.] the customers.
AT&T has often been a center of litigation regarding disclosures by virtue of the sensitive nature of the information it accrues. Subscriber personal information is a major part of AT&T’s services. Consequently, the company has reached out and on multiple occasions cited exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. A landmark judgment concerning the breadth of the FOIA and its applicability on AT&T was put forth by the Supreme Court, which discussed the trade secrets exemption in AT&T Communications of West Virginia, Inc. v. Public Service Commission of West Virginia. In this case, AT&T Communications applied for an order of protection against the Public Service Commission, requesting to bar access to all information altogether by competitors that may be provided in its annual reports mandated by the Public Service Commission.
The broadness of the request saw it overruled, especially since the Public Service Commission functions as an administrative agency with the responsibility of West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act to disclose the information it possesses to the public. Depending upon the circumstances that may surround the suit, guidance can be procured regarding the trade secrets exemption as made available through comparison with the privacy interest arising under the second exemption of West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. Additionally, under certain situations, the individual or the corporation supplying trade secret information to a public body may seek to enjoin disclosure of the information under the State’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act
The Supreme Court has also had to separately lay down that AT&T did not enjoy the ‘personal privacy’ provision of the Freedom of Information Act as the telecom also claimed. The Act exempts the government from publicly disclosing law enforcement records if they ‘constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’ In this case, the trade group CompTel put an FOIA request in 2005 for records forwarded to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC disregarded AT&T’s objections, said the records could be released to the public because the company has no ‘personal privacy.’ In the case in the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of AT&T and declared corporations to be ‘persons’ subject to protection from public disclosure.
The Supreme Court overturned this ruling, with several advocacy groups lauding the same citing the possibility of escape of public oversight by declaring corporate personhood.
However, disclosure of information can still be sought from AT&T. Interested individuals can seek information for disclosure about consumer privacy based personal information, including [A.] the categories and specific pieces of personal information that AT &T has collected, [B.] the categories of sources from which the personal information was collected, [C.] the purposes for collecting or selling the personal information and [D.] the categories of third parties with whom AT & T has provided the personal information, including with service providers who provide services for AT &T, like processing of bills.
AT&T faces considerable competition from companies offering wireless, video and broadband, voice and data, media, and advertising services. The current AT&T reconstitutes much of the former Bell System and includes four of the seven ‘Baby Bells’ along with the original AT&T Corp., including the long-distance division. In 2020, however, the sale of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Xandr, DirecTV including AT&T U-Verse and AT&T TV, Crunchyroll (to Sony Pictures’ Funimation), and Rooster Teeth was proposed to cover debts, with only Warner Bros. currently being retained.
For more information on serving legal papers, contact a Professional Process Service (800) 774-6922. Representatives are available Monday-Friday 8 am – 8 pm EST. If you found this article helpful, please consider donating. Thank you for following our blog, A space dedicated to bringing you news on breaking legal developments, interesting articles for law professionals, and educational material for all. We hope that you enjoy your time on our blog and revisit us! We also invite you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers.
1. HBO, HBO Max, Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN, DC Entertainment, New Line, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies are included under the umbrella of WarnerMedia
2. Southwestern Bell Telephone Company was then a division of American Telephone and Telegraph Company
3. United States v. AT&552 F. Supp. 131 (D. D.C. 1982)
The Federal Communications Commission suspected that the American Telephone and Telegraph Company was using monopoly profits from its Western Electric subsidiary to subsidize the costs of its network, which was contrary to U.S. antitrust law
4. Reference information for AT&T:
Phone number: (800) 635-6840
Fax: (877) 971-6093
5. AT&T Wireless
Subpoena Compliance Center
11760 US Highway 1, Ste. 600
North Palm Beach, FL 33408
6. National Compliance
Fax: (888) 938-4715
8. Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552
9. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (‘FISA’ Pub.L. 95–511, 92 Stat. 1783, 50 U.S.C. ch. 36) is a United States federal law that establishes procedures for the physical and electronic surveillance and collection of ‘foreign intelligence information’ between ‘foreign powers’ and ‘agents of foreign powers’ suspected of espionage or terrorism.
10. AT&T Communications of West Virginia, Inc. v. Public Service Commission of West Virginia, 188W. Va.250, 423S.E.2d859(1992)
11. The Court held, in Syllabus point 2: ‘In order to obtain a protective order from the Public Service Commission to prevent the disclosure of annual report information, a utility must make a credible showing that the information is a `trade secret ‘as described in W. Va. Code, 29B-1-4(1).’
12. EXEMPTION NO. 2: INFORMATION OF A PERSONAL NATURE This exemption, found in W. Va.Code§ 29B-1-4(a)(2), bars release of information that constitutes an unreasonable invasion of privacy, unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the public interest under the circumstances requires disclosure. The purpose of this exemption is to protect individuals from the injury and embarrassment that can result from the unnecessary disclosure of personal information. The individual’s right of privacy must be weighed against the public’s right to know
13. State’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, W. Va.Code §§ 47-22-1 et seq. 
14. These records were forwarded to the FCC’s enforcement bureau concerning AT&T’s admitted overpricing of telecom equipment and services to Connecticut schools under the graft-ridden E-Rate program
15. ‘This is not to say that corporations do not have correspondence, influence, or tragedies of their own, only that we do not use the word ‘personal’ to describe them,’ Chief Justice John Roberts
16. Information collected can be:
- Address and other identifiers – such as name, postal address, email address, account name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, passport number, or other similar identifiers.
- Unique and online identifiers – IP address, device IDs, or other similar identifiers.
- Commercial information – such as records of personal property, products or services purchased, obtained, or considered, or other purchasing or consuming histories or tendencies.
- Internet, gaming or other electronic network activity information – such as browsing history, search history, and information regarding an individual’s interaction with an internet website, application, or advertisement.
- Professional or Educational Information.
- Video Footage (e.g., CCTV); Audio Recordings; Photographs; Calendar Information.
- Location Information
- In-Game or Online Viewing Activities (e.g., videos viewed, pages viewed).
- Inferences drawn from CCPA PI, such as individual profiles, preferences, characteristics, be
17. This sale was significantly regarding a 30% stake to TPG Capital owned jointly with AT&T