But that doesn't mean we can't use humor to illustrate the very serious impact of more consolidation in the mobile market! Check out four short commercials prepared by Free Press and vote on your favorite. Our favorites are below.
We watch in frustration as the federal government, dressed as Charlie Brown asks AT&T, wearing Lucy's blue dress and smiling brightly, if she really will hold the football properly this time. "Oh yes, Charlie, this time I really will create all those jobs if you let us buy T-Mobile," says AT&T Lucy.
Over at HuffPo, Art Brodsky recently revisited AT&T's promises in California to create jobs, lower broadband prices, and heal the infirm if the state would just deregulate the cable video market -- which it did, 4 years ago. California upheld its end of the bargain -- wanna guess if AT&T did? Hint: Charlie Brown ended up on his back then too.
The answer comes from James Weitkamp (via Art's HuffPo post), from the Communications Workers of America, a union that all too often acts in the interests of big companies like AT&T and CenturyLink rather than workers:
"AT&T and Verizon have slashed the frontline workforce, and there simply are not enough technicians available to restore service in a timely manner, nor enough customer service representatives to take customers' calls. Let me share some statistics. Since 2004, AT&T reduced its California landline frontline workforce by 40%, from about 29,900 workers to fewer than 18,000 today. The company will tell you that they need fewer wireline employees because customers have cut the cord going wireless or switched to another provider, but over this same period, AT&T access line loss has been just under nine percent nationally. I would be shocked if line loss in California corresponds to the 40 percent reduction in frontline employees.
"Similarly, since 2006 Verizon California cut its frontline landline workforce by one-third, from more than 7,000 in 2005 to about 4,700 today. I venture that Verizon has not lost one third of its land lines in the state."
Note that AT&T, Verizon, and other massive incumbents like Comcast have been wildly profitable over this term.
The same trend holds in cellular wireless - as noted by the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. wireless industry is booming as more consumers and businesses snap up smartphones, tablet computers and billions of wireless applications. But for...
We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance signed on to a letter organized by our friends at the Media Action Grassroots Network asking the FCC and Department of Justice to thoroughly review AT&T's proposed takeover of T-Mobile -- read the press release.
“Our communities cannot afford higher prices and less choices. We need the FCC and DOJ to block this takeover if it's found to be in violation of antitrust law and does not meet public interest obligations,” said Betty Yu, National Organizer for MAG-Net.
"If AT&T takes over T-Mobile, it will be a disaster for all mobile phone users. It will stifle information, choice and innovation- and lead to higher prices and fewer jobs nationwide, added CMJ's Policy Director, amalia deloney. "It's a real jobs and democracy killer.”
The groups also contend the takeover will disproportionately harm consumers of color, who rely on their cell phones to access the Internet more than whites. While 10 percent of whites access the Internet only from their phones, 18 percent of blacks and 16 percent of English-speaking Latinos depend on affordable wireless coverage to get online.
And an excerpt from the letter [pdf]:
The impact that this merger would have on affordable mobile phone service, broadband access and adoption, openness on the mobile web and broadband competition presents a real threat to our communities. We hope that the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission will examine AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile with appropriate scrutiny and protect our communities by blocking this merger.
We intend to host a series of open and participatory meetings in our communities to discuss this merger, and we hope that FCC Commissioners will commit to joining us. It is only by communicating directly with people and hearing our stories that you will feel our deep concerns with this merger and the devastating impact it would have on our communities.
We continue to advocate for universal, affordable, fast, and reliable broadband, which to us means a wired connection eventually to all homes that are...Read more
As part of our continuing effort to shed light on the tendency of privately owned telcos and cablecos to consolidate rather than compete, we would like to note comments from Qwest's Chief Financial Officer. Stop the Cap! has the story:
Chief Financial Officer Joe Euteneuer said the time was right for Qwest to sell operations in the north-central and mountain west region because there were too many competitors in the marketplace. Euteneuer said the telecommunications market needs to resemble the cable-TV business, which has been heavily concentrated into two huge powerhouses — Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
So not only do these executives think there is too much competition (find me a subscriber who believes that!), but believes we should have less and less competition moving forward. These folks are incredibly candid about their plans to diminish what little competition exists -- perhaps because the FCC has made it clear that it plans to take no actions to encourage further competition. The National Broadband Plan pretty much ignores this problem, perhaps its biggest failing.
For those of us who care about the future of broadband and the communities that increasingly depend upon it, the spectre of even larger privately-owned incumbent providers (with increasingly distant headquarters) is daunting. Bigger and bigger incumbents mean it is that much harder to build better networks that will compete with them. These massive companies cross-subsidize their operations to dramatically cut rates in newly competitive areas specifically to drive out new competitors (public and private). Larger companies have greater advantages for securing discounts on key inputs, allowing them to offer lower prices than communities are naturally able.
This is yet more evidence that the private-company approach to broadband infrastructure is bankrupt.
If we are destined to have only a few entities owning the networks on which we depend, those entities must be directly accountable to the communities, rather than focused solely on increasing profits every year.
Remember our post that privately owned broadband networks tend toward consolidation? A Wall Street Journal article notes that Verizon CEO Seidenbuerg agrees:
Mr. Seidenberg also had some words for his smaller competitors like Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA, which claim to have their own 4G networks up and running already. He thinks the companies, along with other smaller wireless operators, should join forces. "There are too many players in the industry," he said. "I think it would be healthy if there's more consolidation."
So while most of want more competition (which is to say, actual competition rather than essentially the same limited choices from a few providers), they are working to eliminate the few choices we have.
The same story also peeks into the super fast world of the 4G networks that some would have us believe will obviate the need for a faster, more reliable FTTH connection:
Mr. Shammo said Verizon's 4G network, which is based on technology called Long-Term Evolution, can deliver between 1 and 12 megabits per second of data, allowing for tiered pricing structure similar to home wired Internet service.
Call me crazy, but 4G seems like a step backward for most of us who care about fast broadband.
In all the talk of the need for competition in broadband (or in the mobile space), there is remarkably little attention paid to the difficulties in actually creating competition. A common refrain from the self-interested industry titans (and their many paid flacks) is: "keep the government out of it and let the market decide."
Unfortunately, an unregulated market in telecom tends toward consolidation at best, monopolization at worse. Practicioners of Chicago economics may dispute this, but their theories occur in reality about as frequently as unicorn observations. In our regulatory environment, big incumbents have nearly all the advantages, allowing them to use their advantages of scale to maintain market power (most notably the ability to use cross-subsidization from non-competitive markets to maintain predatory pricing wherever they face even the threat of competition).
The de-regulatory approach of telecom policy over the past 10 or more years has resulted in far less competition among ISPs, something Earthlink hopes to change with a condition of the seeming inevitable NBC-Comcast merger. Requiring incumbents to share their lines with independent ISPs is one policy that would greatly increase competition - but the FCC has refused to even entertain the notion because big companies like AT&T and Comcast are too intimidating for the current Administration to confront.
In the Midwest, Windstream is cutting 146 jobs as part of its acquisition of Iowa Telecom. When these companies consolidate, they can cut jobs to lower their costs... but do subscribers ever see the savings? Not hardly. The result is less competition, which leads to higher prices. Consider that Comcast is the largest cable company, but they are known better for their poor record of customer service than low prices enabled by economies of scale.
We need broadband networks that are structurally accountable to the community, not private shareholders located far outside the community. The solution is not more private companies owning broadband infrastructure, but more private companies offering competing services over next-generation infrastructure that is community owned by coops, non-profits, or local governments.
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