T-Mobile hopes America's love affair with superheroes can help it secure a win in one of Washington's wonkiest policy battles.
The company's published a three-minute attack video against AT&T and Verizon — which it sinisterly calls "The Duopoly" — accusing them of trying to deny T-Mobile access to the airwaves that transport your mobile data and phone calls.
The video paints AT&T and Verizon as a two-headed monster that lives at the top of a towering skyscraper, plotting to assimilate innocent consumers everywhere. And it depicts the Federal Communications Commission as a set of five superheroes that can knock the large incumbents down a peg.
It comes amid a wider PR battle that has T-Mobile lobbing rhetorical potshots at Verizon, and vice-versa. And the conflict is only intensifying as federal regulators near a decision that'll shape the long-term future of the industry.
Every so often, the government auctions off some of the airwaves I just mentioned so that cellular carriers can make their networks faster and more reliable. Next year, the FCC is going to do just that, in an unprecedented sale of highly valuable radio real estate.
The government has already set aside a portion of this wireless "spectrum" so that only smaller carriers such as T-Mobile can buy access to it. But T-Mobile wants more to be reserved, arguing that without further set-asides, AT&T and Verizon will be able to keep T-Mobile and other small carriers from growing.
The FCC will soon decide whether to grant that request. If it does, T-Mobile will get better access to airwaves that travel farther — an important physical characteristic of the spectrum at stake in this auction. This is where T-Mobile chief executive John Legere's famously abrasive persona gives him the most leverage; being the nation's fourth-largest cellular carrier enables him to make the kind of bomb-throwing populist pitch you see in the video above.
But T-Mobile's rivals argue that the company isn't some helpless, put-upon runt. In PCMag's just-released annual study of America's fastest mobile networks, Verizon emerges on top while T-Mobile is recognized as "a force to be reckoned with." In roughly a quarter of the cities PCMag studied, T-Mobile offered the best data speeds. T-Mobile has also rapidly added new subscribers in recent months.
"There were a number of inaccuracies in that video," said Verizon spokesman Edward McFadden of T-Mobile's attack, "not only with T-Mobile's phony arguments about spectrum, but also our secret lair is far cooler and some of our government affairs folks are scarier than portrayed in the animated comic book."
A spokesperson for AT&T didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Legere's appeal straight to the camera for help — asking for tweets to the FCC and other expressions of grassroots support — makes a lot of sense for a company in last place. At the same time, it's also a pretty transparent self-interested play.
That's Washington for you.