Telecom and media giant AT&T will partner with rival telecom and media giant Verizon to run parts of its consumer-facing web portal att.net after ending its contract with the small Buffalo tech firm Synacor, BuzzFeed News has learned.
This means Verizon, which already provides AT&T’s email service (@att.net) through Yahoo, will now also run att.net. The portal — which features news, stocks, a search bar, and links to other AT&T sites including email — receives 30 million to 40 million visitors per month and makes money from ads.
AT&T declined to comment. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Verizon.
While the website is just a minuscule part of AT&T’s massive business, the partnership raises concerns about whether telecom giants partnering, even in this small way, signals an environment in which they might compete less aggressively. AT&T and Verizon are the country’s two largest telecom companies.
“This kind of informal ‘joint-venture’ is deeply concerning because it comes at a time when there is already justifiable concern that the recent wave of telecom and media mergers is lessening competition and increasing the risk that would-be competitors will instead collaborate in ways that harm consumer interests,” said a source familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.
The industry is already under scrutiny. This year the federal government was unable to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, which it said would “impede disruptive competition from online video distributors, competition that has allowed consumers greater choices at cheaper prices.”
Synacor, which had won a revenue-sharing deal to run att.net from Yahoo in 2016, announced last week that “it plans to begin discussions with AT&T regarding a wind-down and user-migration plan as it has been notified that AT&T intends to select another provider of portal services for its ATT.net consumer experience.”
This is a significant blow to Synacor, including the 50-person team working on the AT&T business. In the first quarter of 2019, att.net represented $9.3 million of Synacor’s $20.7 million in revenue from its portal and advertising business. The company’s total revenue in 2018 was $143.9 million.
“This type of deepening cooperation between should-be competitors would seem to substantiate that worry and deserves closer examination,” the source said.