Re-assembling Ma Bell: The customer is the loser

Art Brodsky has an interesting article about the T-Mobile/AT&T wireless merger. Brodsky illuminates a wide range of interlocking business relationships that are helping to push the merger forward, even though it would create what amounts to a duopoly in the cellular business, with AT&T and Verizon having about 80% of the U.S. market locked up.

What's next? Why, expect that in about two years, Verizon and AT&T will begin discussing a merger, because it will be so much better for their customers if they don't have to shop around and have to deal with the time-consuming research required when you have choice. And don't forget that in the landline business, AT&T and Verizon also own a majority of the U.S. market for phone and leased lines.

I was working for AT&T both before and after the 1984 break up, and there was nothing efficient about a company with a million employees. Prices for services were artificially high and there was no incentive to innovate. Even a duopoly is bad for customers, as whoever the two firms that own the duopoly market are, once they have driven out any competition, what's left is simply making it uninteresting to switch to the other provider. And this is best done by keeping prices at both firms high and relatively equal. Lots of profit and low customer churn.

The biggest loser is rural America, which needs high performance, affordable broadband to keep rural communities economically viable. What is troubling is the willingness of rural legislators to vote for laws and mergers that go against the interests of their own constituents.