WisBusiness interview: AT&T chief says law changes spurred company’s upgrades

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

AT&T has spent a whopping $1 billion in Wisconsin since 2008 and $100 million alone over the past six months in the Badger State.

“We’re proud of that investment,” said AT&T Wisconsin president Scott VanderSanden in an interview with WisBusiness.com.

VanderSanden said the passage of two laws helped spur the spending spree to upgrade equipment that allowed it to better handle video and to build towers to expand and upgrade its wireless network to handle faster data transmission speeds.

“It’s safe to say that without the passage of those two key pieces of legislation, our investment would not have continued at that aggressive pace,” he explained.

VanderSanden said the 2007 “video act” allowed companies like AT&T to enter the video market faster with its U-verse product, did away with local “patchwork” regulations and replaced them with one set of statewide rules.

The second piece of what he called “groundbreaking legislation” was Act 22, which either eliminated or updated old land-line regulations when it was signed into law last year.

Looking at the big telecom picture, VanderSanden said the move to wireless technology is only going to grow, with roughly a third of all homes in the country already abandoning their land lines.

“The shift is undeniable and there is nothing I can see that would suggest it will slow down,” he said. “Wireless is now how many people live their lives.”

He said when he considers his three kids, all around 20 years of age, he can’t foresee them having land lines in their dwellings.

“They’ve grown up wireless,” he said.

VanderSanden said new technologies have not only made people more connected, they have sped up the business world, bringing products to market and upping the pace of economic development.

“And one of the areas we talk about a lot and where you see the combination of processing speeds and wireless technology is in the health care sector.,” he said.

“Doctors do their diagnoses over an iPad and then transfer all the information wirelessly back to their servers,” he said. “It results in the patient getting overall better diagnosis and treatment and starts reducing costs.

“Wireless technology merging with the more processing speed … there’s just no end to what those sort of marriages will result,” he said.

VanderSanden said his company is working on an effort called digital life that will help improve home security and even allow adult children to monitor the lives of their elderly parents more closely.

“In Wisconsin, many people have lake homes up north that they’ll be better able to keep an eye on to know if the pipes froze or see if someone has broken in,” he said.

Similarly, the delivery of a UPS package to a home could be observed and authorized while someone is at his or her office desk.

“This will revolutionize things,” he said. “It will also help elderly parents stay in their homes instead of having to move into a nursing home. It will give their children greater peace of mind.”

VanderSanden said he and his company are also working to reduce texting while driving, and had backed a recently enacted law that bans the practice.

“We re-launched our campaign (against texting while driving) nationwide last week,” he said. “It’s something that feeds into our philosophy about being involved in the community where we can.”

He called the statistics around texting and driving “pretty stark.”

“So we spend a lot of time talking to teens because of them (texting) and their lack of driving experience, which is a bad combination. You are 23 more times likely to be in an accident of you are texting while driving, which is on par with driving while under the influence.”

VanderSanden said he has spoken at more than a dozen school and other AT&T representatives have taken part at another 50 events around the state.

“When I drive, I still see a number of people doing it on the road. This is an opportunity to increase our involvement in the community and raise awareness of an issue that is pretty darn dangerous.”