AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson last month went on a softball interview tour
of preferred media outlets, pouring it on rather thick in his insistence the his company's $38 billion planned acquisition of T-Mobile is pro-consumer and even patriotic, while downplaying inevitable job losses and the anti-competitive impact of allowing Verizon and AT&T to utterly dominate the wireless market. Tomorrow morning, Stephenson will defend the deal before the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. From Stephenson's prepared speech tomorrow:
This transaction is all about consumers. It's about keeping up with consumer demand. It's about having the capacity to drive innovation and competitive prices for consumers. And most important, it's about giving consumers what they expect - fewer dropped calls, faster speeds and access to state-of-the-art mobile broadband Internet service - whether they live in a large city, a small town, or out in rural areas.
Except AT&T's failures have never been because AT&T lacks the resources or money to operate a cutting edge network. AT&T's failures have come from the company's trademark tendency to place investor interests above not only consumers, but the overall health of the company and network. As a result, customer satisfaction and network performance has consistently suffered, and acquiring T-Mobile fixes none of AT&T's real problems. You can take your pick of last place AT&T showings, whether it's Consumer Reports
, JD Power & Associates (see the latest customer care
, retail sales
and call quality
surveys), or the American Consumer Satisfaction Index
That's before we get to the fact that AT&T has the lowest wireless caps of any carrier and a network that still struggles to complete phone calls in several markets. AT&T's story is that the T-Mobile acquisition somehow magically fixes these issues. Except as we've been documenting
, while the addition of T-Mobile towers and spectrum might benefit AT&T a little in a few select markets, the deal has virtually no impact on AT&T's network capacity or expansion plans. It doesn't change AT&T's corporate culture, and layering T-Mobile integration issues on top of existing support issues (for a company that's only just getting BellSouth integrated) won't magically make AT&T any better at support and service.
What the deal will
do is make an already massive company with a strong tendency toward anti-competitive behavior much larger, eliminate a competitor from the market while keeping T-Mobile out of Sprint's hands (which make no mistake is the deal's primary goal), and result in the elimination of thousands of redundant AT&T and T-Mobile employees. In addition to AT&T and Verizon's existing dominance of the special access market, they'll also now dominate 75% of the wireless retail market -- which means higher prices. The deal has absolutely no support from real consumer groups or consumers, so suggesting the deal is in any way "pro consumer" is trademark AT&T arrogance.
Fortunately for AT&T, they've got a Congress so smothered by AT&T contribution cash
, the company's black is white, up is down rhetoric and hubris will see little more than a tongue lashing tomorrow in DC. The deal absolutely will be approved, and the only question right now is how tough the FCC and DOJ conditions will be. If recent history is any indication, it's almost guaranteed that those conditions will be 80% showmanship and 20% substance. AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile is "all about the consumer" in much the same way a shark attack is "all about the swimmer." This deal ends with consumer blood in the water as regulators and politicians are paid to look the other way.