Verizon Retains “Oath” of Fealty to Itself

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The “Oath” division of the most inventive, incumbent ISP on the planet, including the design of a long-haul network, which is as “future-proof” as humanly possible, and standing by itself in its construction of the FiOS network (without any direct government support), is now called the Verizon Media Group. While the service provider has made notable missteps in the past, including initially projecting very low on the cost of a key component of 5G wireless, understandable in its role as a pioneer, the inability of so many people analyzing the corporation to give it the benefit of the doubt, is simply astounding. When a very tiny minority of consultants, including this writer, explained the reasonable rationale behind Verizon pulling the trigger on FiOS last decade, as it did not prove-in on a first-cost basis, a good number of critics preferred the narrative that the operator was just being foolish. More recently, there has been a stunning lack of intellectual curiosity in looking beneath the surface, as to the motives for buying a relic, like AOI, along with out-of-fashion, Yahoo. Quite simply, Verizon never “aimed to be an advertising powerhouse,” which justified the lack of “a clear reason for why advertising on Oath was different to other platforms.” The provider’s total focus going back to the early Bell Atlantic days was a fairly unwavering path to become a player principally catering to Fortune 2000 entities, and getting away as much as feasible from the lower-margin, consumer business – ultimately, culminating in working towards its goal in becoming a 5G wireless dynamo. The current strain at the firm is a battle over getting fiber pairs directly to a large business on one side of the street versus using it to support a 5G effort on the other side, still mainly targeting enterprise apps. Despite any obligatory rhetoric to the contrary about placing fiber for new residential applications or in support for 5G consumer services, such actions will be kept to a minimum, but just enough in order to hopefully, placate the regulatory community, as well as to try to fend off the extreme net neutrality advocacy groups. Consequently, the term, “Oath” had to be chosen, despite knowing it was a terrible brand name, not because of the infantile reason that it “rhymes with ‘growth’,” but as a pledge to itself that it would do everything in its power to maintain its right to self-determination, and to loyally battle the tyrannical forces of government, which can capriciously seize its private property at any time, even 35+ years, after the divestiture of Ma Bell.

As fibeReality has discussed in the past, if Verizon specifically, and the other original large ILECs generally, appear to be engaging in an activity, which is counterintuitive, the immediate reaction on the part of an onlooker should be to initially consider whether it as an additional means of constantly preparing for the next battle with regulators, which on the federal level, of course, can periodically occur in a change in the executive branch. Now, there are state governments looking to impose neutrality legislation on them as well, which essentially means that a content provider cannot be charged more for using a disproportionate amount of their bandwidth — along with the possibility of a rogue court arbitrarily ruling anytime that excess capacity of any type can be confiscated – unbundled to other competitors. Verizon wants to be equipped with the most sophisticated legal arguments possible to aid in preventing such random acts.

If necessary, the company desires the option of a content service provider framework for its own protection, and so, it is no accident that the shift in the name, explicitly incorporates “Media,” while making it clear, it is still an extension of “Oath,” which probably excused the so-called “confusion,” in initially choosing a graphic reminiscent of Yahoo. In the same way, AT&T also changed Time Warner to “WarnerMedia.” In addition, AT&T has been going a step further in transferring wireline assets to its wireless division.

At the same time, it was hardly a contradiction, when Verizon “took an aggressive stance to complying with the European GDPR set of rules with an extensive set of features” (as mentioned in the Digiday article above) because it could care less about the actual growth in its advertising business. Moreover, it chose “two companies on the falling side of their growth curve” because it wanted to save money.

Also, the idea that an unimpressive motto, “Build brands people love” would have otherwise passed muster with the higher-level executives at Verizon should have provided more than a clue about its actual strategy. Why would Verizon, which needs every bit of capital to fund its massive 5G project want to “challenge Silicon Valley’s advertising dominance,” while “its wireless division is responsible for 85% of the company’s EBITDA?”

As always, fibeReality does not recommend any securities, and this writer does not invest in any companies being analyzed by us.

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[written by Mark Lutkowitz]