"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Friday, March 25, 2011

Saying you won't rubber-stamp something is not taking a stand

Gotta love the headline of this article in TG Daily: "FCC takes stand on T-Mobile, AT&T merger."

If you actually read the article, the Wall Street Journal apparently quotes an unnamed FCC official as saying, "There's no way the [FCC] chairman's office rubber-stamps this transaction. It will be a steep climb to say the least."

Dude. When did a regulatory agency refusing to rubber-stamp something become "taking a stand"? If this doesn't perfectly encapsulate the obsequious reverence that we've come to expect from most top federal regulators towards big business, I don't know what does.

Let's review. There are 4 major national cellular providers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. Verizon and Sprint run on CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM standard, like most of the rest of the world. CDMA has a large presence in the U.S., but is not the prevailing standard in most other countries.

If you buy a standard CDMA phone to use with Verizon or Sprint, you'll then need to get a GSM phone and a SIM from another carrier if you want to have a working cell phone in, say, most of Europe. This means that, for people who travel internationally, Verizon and Sprint are poor options. Right now you have two options for GSM in the U.S.: AT&T and T-Mobile. By my count, that means that if they merge you will be left with exactly one GSM option: AT&T. As Brent Arends comments on MarketWatch, welcome to Cellphone Soviet.

I think we all know what the point of this merger is. Deutsche Telekom wants to ditch T-Mobile USA; and AT&T wants to get back to its roots as a monopoly, the better to screw over its customers. Good for Deutsche Telekom, good for AT&T, bad for everybody else. To make matters worse, the reduction of overall competition to three mobile players will also squeeze Sprint, making it entirely possible that we'd end up with an effective duopoly wherein AT&T is your GSM "choice" and Verizon is your CDMA "choice."

But don't worry, y'all! The FCC has taken A Stand!

Geekosystem has pulled together contact information for the FCC and Department of Justice if you want to register your alarm about this merger. Contacting your Congress-critters is a good idea too.

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