AT&T's merger with T-Mobile has been a sticky subject since the deal was proposed back in March. The proposal has to get the approval from the FCC before the two companies can officially meet in holy matrimony. So far, the proposal has faced a great deal of opposition by government officials, other wireless providers and a large portion of those it will affect the most, consumers. 'Ol Blue is fighting tooth and nail in an attempt to convince everyone involved that the deal is not meant to eliminate the competition, but that it is in the best interests of our country, the wireless industry and consumers.
The Department of Justice, however, isn't buying it. Although the DOJ does not technically have to approve of anything for the merger to go through, they have played a major role in all of the hearings and the progress of the review period. Many of those opposing the merger have sent letters warranting "careful examination" to both the DOJ abd FCC. Much to AT&T's surprise and dismay, the DOJ filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court this morning to block the merger, claiming, “AT&T’s elimination of T-Mobile as an independent, low-priced rival would remove a significant competitive force from the market.” The DOJ's suit garnered a response from FCC Chariman Julius Genachowski:
“The record before this agency also raises serious concerns about the impact of the proposed transaction on competition. Vibrant competition in wireless services is vital to innovation, investment, economic growth and job creation, and to drive our global leadership in mobile. Competition fosters consumer benefits, including more choices, better service and lower prices.”
Unsurprisingly, AT&T also fired back with an official statement and a request for an expedited hearing so the “enormous benefits of this merger can be fully reviewed.” And what exactly are those enormous benefits? AT&T believes their merger with T-Mobile will:
If you've been following the merger since March, you've likely found that this it is only getting more convoluted as more parties get involved. And the opposition to it is growing. It's all mucked up. But I'm glad that people are realizing the adverse effects this could have on the wireless industry as a whole, and I'm happy to see the DOJ – someone with some real weight on the issue – stepping in to fight the merger.
Somehow AT&T believes that swallowing up a competitor is actually good for competition and will provide more jobs. Rep. Jay Inslee disagrees, asking how this will affect the amount of jobs due to consolidating “billing platforms, customer care centers and headquarters organization." Jobs aren't all that will be affected, though. Many fear that it will inevitably lead to a duopoly – AT&T buying T-Mobile may lead to Verizon buying Sprint, or AT&T and Verizon making it difficult for Sprint to compete. I find that hard to believe. Nonetheless, AT&T and T-Mobile are currently the only major GSM carriers in America. By allowing the two to merge, there would only be one, ultimately resulting to higher prices and a smaller phone selection.
Kent German of CNET took the words right out of my mouth (or thoughts out of my head), explaining how T-Mobile has been far more aggressive and risky in the creation of their smartphone lineups while AT&T has relied heavily on the iPhone. AT&T does have some strong smartphones in their lineup, but their selection pales in comparison to T-Mo's. The merger would all but cut the US GSM device selection in half, if not more, thus stifling and slowing innovation.
And prices? While T-Mobile is notorious for more wallet-friendly service plans, AT&T is not. They're among the most expensive providers in America. Spending $39 billion to acquire T-Mobile and expand their 4G coverage means they're not going to be looking to make plans cheaper. They'll be looking to make some of that money back. In short, if you want GSM after the merger completes, you will pay what AT&T says you're going to pay. That, or you'll have to switch to a regional carrier. Either way, it's not going to come cheap.
Lastly, this poses a real threat to the aforementioned rural and regional carriers, says Rep. Steve Chabot. In a letter to the FCC and DOJ, Chabot notes that regional carriers create agreements with national carriers to provide service to customers when they travel outside of their service areas. Chabot further explains that:
"If the merger goes through, a vast amount of the most valuable spectrum for deployment of advanced services will be controlled by one carrier," and "elimination of the alternative roaming partner for the regional and rural providers that utilize GSM technology will greatly impact the regional and rural wireless providers."
When I first learned of the proposed merger, I couldn't care less. T-Mobile was only my secondary service and I left AT&T ages ago. I've never been a huge advocate of GSM, mainly because I've generally had the strongest coverage through Verizon. But after sitting on the issue for a while, it occurred to me just how much this deal could affect the entire industry, likely for the worse. Although AT&T may believe it's for the benefit of everyone, their case is dwindling as the opposition grows.
How do you guys and gals feel about the merger? Do you hope it goes through? Or were you popping open a champagne bottle with Dan Hesse after the news of the DOJ suit? And if by the long shot it were approved, would you T-Mo users out there defect from 'Ol Blue?
Image via USA Today