Shining a Light on the Elephant in the Living Room

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-08-10 Print this article Print

It's typical that wireless companies praise the actions of the FCC only on those occasions when the agency is doing something that is in the interests of the wireless company offering the praise. In this case, however, McCann makes sense. AT&T is busy accumulating as much spectrum as it can get its hands on, and the FCC wants to look at the overall impact.

As you'd expect, AT&T and Qualcomm don't agree. Qualcomm wants the spectrum sale to go through because it wants its money. AT&T doesn't want the two deals considered together because it's still hoping that the FCC will not closely study the impact the two deals together will have on the wireless industry. But the FCC is considering the two deals together and the reasoning is fairly simple. If AT&T already has a lot of spectrum and gains even more with the purchase from Qualcomm, why does it need T-Mobile?

Therein lies the issue. AT&T has been (as we who live in the South call it) poor-mouthin' on the issue of spectrum. Its claim that it absolutely, positively must buy T-Mobile is based on its position that it doesn't have enough spectrum to deploy LTE. But if it gets all of that highly desired 700 MHz spectrum from Qualcomm, what does buying T-Mobile bring?

But all this just shines a spotlight on the elephant in the living room. AT&T really doesn't need T-Mobile's spectrum. What it wants is a return to the good ol' days when Ma Bell was a monopoly and could do anything it wanted. And what it wants to do is restrict customers' choices so that they end up a docile, captive group that has no choice but to pay nice high prices for their wireless telephone service.

Without T-Mobile out there providing service at lower costs with more innovation to provide choice and competition in the wireless industry, AT&T would own the GSM market in the United States. It would no longer need to enter into roaming agreements with small, regional carriers and it would no longer need to put up with competition with Sprint and its (so far) unlimited data plans.

So AT&T's intentions are even more clear than they were. This isn't about spectrum, it's about control and eventually a duopoly, which in some ways is better than the monopoly it once had, because that way it can keep up the pretense of competition even when there really won't be any meaningful competition. And that's why the company wants to avoid talking about that big, fat elephant in the living room. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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