Post

Farewell to AT&T’s Jim Cicconi

August 25, 2016

This post was originally published on Harold Feld's personal blog, Tales of the Sausage Factory, on Wetmachine.com. It has been lightly edited. 


It may seem odd for me to say, and meaning no offense to his replacement Bob Quinn, but I am sorry to see Jim Cicconi retire from AT&T at the end of this month. For those who don’t play in this pond, Cicconi has been AT&T’s Lobbyist in Chief here in D.C. since 2005. It may therefore seem odd that I am sorry to see him go, particularly since Cicconi was so damned good at his job. But, as I have said many times before, I’m not here because companies are evil, nor do I believe the people working for them necessarily delight in crushing consumers, strangling puppies and tossing destitute widows and orphans on the street in rags in the dead of winter. (At least not in telecom. The copyright folks, on the other hand, were ready to screw over the blind a few years back just for giggles. But I digress.)

Jim Cicconi is one of the few people at the top level in telecom who understand that you get better results by looking for opportunities to work with opponents in the public interest community when possible, rather than always going to the mat all the time on everything and regarding public interest opponents as automatically “the enemy.” And, while no one wants to be regulated, Cicconi recognized you can sometimes do better in the long term by voluntarily accepting some regulation and only fighting to bitter end on things that really matter/impact the bottom line.

None of this is to say that AT&T is any less an incumbent or any less a profit-maximizing firm, and Cicconi knew how to leverage all the good will AT&T generated with its charitable work and how to cut deals based on established trust and long-term relationships. But those who knew Jim Cicconi understood that his support for things like marriage equality and providing economic opportunity for people of color, and general desire for AT&T to be a “good corporate citizen,” were sincere. That didn’t stop him from deftly using these connections to lobby these organizations to support AT&T’s policy proposals, but Cicconi didn’t just write checks. He also tried to walk the walk.

As an ultimate expression of the commitment to principle, Cicconi is one of the high-profile Republican stalwarts who has publicly rejected Trump and endorsed Clinton for President. Despite voting Republican in every presidential election since 1976, Cicconi called on his fellow Republicans to put “country ahead of party” and stop Trump from leading the country down “a very dark path.”

Now that is walking the walk.

The Way of the Warrior Wonk

Additionally, as a professional who is reasonably good at this little telecom policy game, I feel an obligation under the Warrior Wonk Code of Honor to acknowledge the departure of such an incredibly effective opposite number — who managed to be effective without being a total jerk.

Indeed, had the rest of the industry listened to Cicconi, we might never of gotten Title II. In 2014, when the rest of the ISP industry was still holding out against any rules, or grudgingly accepting the flawed FCC proposal, AT&T proposed a full ban on paid prioritization in an effort to short circuit Title II. Why? Because Cicconi read the political situation and understood that nothing less than a full ban on paid prioritization would be acceptable to the public at that point, and therefore the only hope the industry had of preempting a Title II reclassification was to offer up a total ban on paid prioritization immediately before the Title II train gained any further momentum.

Fortunately for the public, the rest of the industry ignored this approach until way too late. But I appreciate the fact that Cicconi was right, and way ahead of everyone else on the other side.

So we here at Tales of the Sausage Factory raise a cup in salute and farewell. Good luck to Jim Cicconi wherever fate takes him next — but hopefully not back on the other side in telecom policy again.

Image credit: AT&T Public Policy


About Harold Feld

Harold Feld is Public Knowledge’s Senior Vice President and author of “The Case for the Digital Platform Act,” (Public Knowledge & Roosevelt Institute 2019) a guide on what government can do to preserve competition and empower individual users in the huge swath of our economy now referred to as “Big Tech.” Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler described this book as, “[...] a tour de force of the issues raised by the digital economy and internet capitalism.” For more than 20 years, Feld has practiced law at the intersection of technology, broadband, and media policy in both the private sector and in the public interest community. Feld has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, a law degree from Boston University, and clerked for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Feld also writes “Tales of the Sausage Factory,” a progressive blog on media and telecom policy. In 2007, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin praised him and his blog for “[doing] a lot of great work helping people understand how FCC decisions affect people and communities on the ground.”