AT&T-T-Mobile merger widely panned

The proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger has many different groups standing athwart recent telecom history and yelling, "Stop!"

Although the past eight years have seen a big wave of wireless telecommunications mergers, the latest proposed deal between AT&T and T-Mobile has struck many as going too far. Some quick background on where the industry has been going for the past decade: If AT&T's T-Mobile acquisition gets approved, it will be the fourth major wireless carrier merger in eight years, following AT&T-Cingular in 2004, Sprint-Nextel in 2005, and Verizon-Alltel in 2008. AT&T would become by far the largest wireless carrier in the United States with more than 130 million subscribers. Combine the current AT&T-T-Mobile subscriber base with those of Verizon (94 million) and Sprint (53 million), and you see that just three carriers would account for 277 million wireless subscriptions.

ANALYSIS: Will AT&T's T-Mobile buy lead to a duopoly?

So who is against this further concentration of the wireless telecom industry? As it turns out, a wide variety of groups. On the more predictable side is the Consumers Union, which publishes the popular Consumer Reports journal and which has typically taken a skeptical eye toward corporate mergers in the past. After the proposed Ma Bell-T-Mobile deal was announced this week, the group urged Congress to hold hearings to determine whether such a merger would harm consumers' interests.

"Many consumers are already subject to high phone bills and cannot easily switch carriers for a variety of reasons such as early termination fees or the inability to get the device of their choice," Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said this week. "Allowing AT&T to purchase T-Mobile will result in nearly 80 per cent of the market being dominated by two wireless carriers. Such concentration cannot be good news for consumers."

On the less predictable side of things, The Economist magazine, which is typically a fan of free-market capitalism, said that the merger shouldn't just be scrutinized but stopped altogether. The magazine urged the government instead to undertake reforms to the wireless industry that would significantly lower barriers to entry for new players to compete with the big incumbents.

"It would be far better if the Federal Communications Commission ... and the Department of Justice blocked the T-Mobile merger -- and tried to reform the market instead," the magazine wrote while adding suggestions such as "allowing other firms to buy bulk wireless capacity from AT&T and resell it, by freeing up underused spectrum and by making local phone and cable firms share their wires."

AT&T rival Sprint, which had long been rumored as a potential buyer of T-Mobile, was also understandably hostile to the deal. Sprint has been slowly but surely rebounding from a disastrous period where it lost 5 million total wireless subscribers between 2007 and 2010. At its lowest point in the third quarter of 2008, Sprint lost a whopping 1.3 million wireless subscribers, and for all of 2008 Sprint lost more than 4 million wireless subscribers. Although Sprint has recently started adding wireless subscribers again, the AT&T-T-Mobile deal could put the carrier at a further disadvantage as it tries to regain the market share it's lost from Verizon and AT&T over the past five years.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said this week that the company planned to submit its concerns and objections to the proposed deal to Congress in the near future, noting in particularly that the newly merged wireless company would have "tremendous" power over the wireless market.

"If you take a look at the market power of the big two, in postpaid, which is contracts, the way most users think of the business, in 2005 the big two had 52 per cent market share," Hesse told CNBC's Jim Cramer this week. "They've expanded that now with acquisitions in the last few years, up to 67 per cent. If this transaction goes through you're talking 79 per cent, or roughly 80 per cent of the market controlled by two companies. I think that's a little too much -- too much concentration."

And finally, early indications are that the FCC is in no mood to rubber-stamp a merger that will give AT&T even greater power in the wireless market. An anonymous FCC official told The Wall Street Journal this week that there was "no way the [FCC] chairman's office rubber-stamps this transaction. It will be a steep climb to say the least." And although the FCC has remained officially silent regarding the proposed merger so far, AT&T is already expecting that the commission will demand a hefty pound of flesh that will require giving up large chunks of spectrum in exchange for approval. But even if the AT&T-T-Mobile deal wins approval from the FCC, winning approval in the court of public opinion is another matter entirely.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags business issueswirelessNetworkingcorporate issuesacquisitionsmergersat&tMergers / acquisitionsAlltel

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Brad Reed

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?