A large American communications company.
AT&T has annual revenue of nearly $66 bn (2000).
The company runs a worldwide communications network, and is the largest cable operator in the U.S.
The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) had its humble beginnings in July 1877, with the formation of the Bell Telephone Company, actually superceding an aggreement between Alexander Graham Bell and his fincanciers. This was particularly ironic since, less than a year before, Gardiner Hubbard, principal financier for Bell, had offered all rights to the telephone to Western Union for $100,000. Fortunately for the Bell interests, this was turned down.
In March 1879 the Bell Telephone Company, amidst fierce financial and patent battles, became the National Bell Telephone Company. By March 1880, it became the American Bell Telephone Company. Another ironic turn of fate was that, in 1881, Bell bought the controlling interest of Western Electric Company from Western Union.
American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation was set up in 1885 to run the long-distance network. Starting from New York the network reached Chicago in 1892, and San Francisco in 1915. Transatlantic services started in 1927 using two-way radio, but the first transatlantic submarine telephone cable did not arrive until 1956, with TAT-1.
On December 30, 1899, American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation bought the assets of American Bell and gained control of what became the American telephone monopoly, known as the Bell System, as the Bell company had gradually acquired all it's licensees.
There was very heavy competition in the early 20th C. and in 1907 AT&T president Theodore Vail propsed a monopoly on efficiency grounds. The government accepted this principle, initially in the Kingsbury Commitment of 1913.
Through most of the 20th century AT&T had pretty much a total monopoly on long distance service through its AT&T Long Lines subsidiary, and encompassing the 22 Bell Operating Companies providing local telephone service throughout most of the United States. Although there were a large number of "independent telephone companies," General Telephone being the largest, the Bell System was far and away the largest, and was considered by most as a total monopoly.
The Bell System (and indeed all telephone companies) was regulated by public utility commissions in all state and local jurisdictions, and by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for all service across state lines. This regulation set the rates that the companies were allowed to charge, and even what specific services and equipment they were allowed to offer. This did not halt technological innovation and amongst other developments in 1962, AT&T commissioned the first commercial communications satellite, Telstar I. This and other new technologies convinced the FCC to introduce competion in some sectors, by the 1975 the competition had spread to general long-distance services.
The monopoly lasted until 1982, when an antitrust suit initiated in 1974 by the U.S. government against AT&T was finally settled and AT&T agreed to divest it's operating companies that provided local exchange service. Effective January 1, 1984 the Bell System was broken into eight separate companies, as a result of antitrust proceedings by the U.S. Justice Department. The remaining AT&T company (reduced in value by about 70% and actually named AT&T) retained all long distance services, while the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs or 'Baby Bells') each became an independent company. Competition in the telephone industry has, since the above described "divestiture," made numerous additional changes in all of the resulting companies; mergers, aquisitions, etc.
In 1996, AT&T voluntarily spun off most of its manufacturing operations along with the renowned Bell Laboratories, naming the new company Lucent Technologies. At the same time, AT&T spun off NCR Corp. (National Cash Register), which it had previously absorbed in 1991.
Following this second split (or "trivestiture"), AT&T acquired significant Cable television assets, including John Malone's TCI Corp. and MediaOne (through these purchases, AT&T also gained control of a 25% share of Time Warner Cable.) These purchases made AT&T the largest provider of cable television in the United States. The intent was to use these assets to bridge the so-called "last mile" and break the Regional Bell Companies' access-monopoly of the consumer household for data and telephony services. Unfortunately, the crushing debt generated by these purchases, falling long-distance rates, and a sagging market for telecommunications services, raised serious questions about the viability of these plans.
In 2001, AT&T officially spun off AT&T Wireless Corp. following the world's largest IPO (of AT&T Wireless Tracking Stock.) Subsequently, the company announced plans to spin off the Cable TV (or "Broadband") unit as a separate company.