I Can't Afford the AT&T-T-Mobile Merger

When I heard about AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile, I got nervous. I fear the outcomes of greater concentration in the wireless market for all consumers, but I’m also a former AT&T customer who wrested myself away to T-Mobile just over a year ago. So this merger gets personal.

My time with AT&T was mostly unpleasant. Dropped calls, reception so poor that I could barely conduct a conversation in my apartment, and customer service that was so bad it was borderline offensive. The only reason I stayed with AT&T so long was because I got caught up in the cycle of new devices and new service plans that would extend my contract, thus prolonging my pain. We were frienemies at best.

Most current and former AT&T customers know my plight all too well. AT&T has long been known as the national carrier with the worst customer service and the highest percentage of dropped calls. I can personally vouch for all of this, which is why I finally decided to pay the whopping early termination fee and take my business to T-Mobile.

The reason I chose T-Mobile is simple: they have better prices and better service. With my new Android phone and T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network (kind of like 4G-lite or 3.5G) I have enjoyed better coverage and a more affordable data plan than I got with AT&T. For $85/month, I get 1,500 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited data. I have been totally happy with my decision, and up until a couple of months ago when AT&T announced plans to purchase T-Mobile, I had no reason to look back.

With this merger looming, I decided to give my former frenemy a call to see if anything had changed. The distracted customer service representative who put me on hold for two minutes at the beginning of the call was my first indication that I was probably in for more of the same. When I asked what AT&T would charge for a plan similar to the one I have with T-Mobile, I was presented with a plan that offered less for more money.

AT&T doesn’t provide unlimited data plans, but their best approximation of my current plan would cost me $135/month. AT&T likes to talk about the benefits of this merger, but for T-Mobile customers like me it means that we may be spending $50 more a month ($600/year) for wireless service. This price increase for T-Mobile’s customer base of cost-conscious consumers is one that many probably cannot afford.

I did ask AT&T if my current plan with T-Mobile would be maintained if a merger is approved and there were no guarantees or satisfactory answers, just a vague assurance that they would send me “a letter or something.”

Given the hardship that many consumers would face if this merger is approved, one would think that there is some legal means to protect consumers. Well, luckily there is and it’s called antitrust law. According to Department of Justice Horizontal Merger Guidelines, the wireless market is already highly concentrated and a merger of this size ought to raise serious concerns. So the law is on our side, we just need to make sure that our lawmakers don’t let us down.

AT&T is known as a power player in Washington, with deep pockets for lobbying and campaign contributions. These lobbyists and campaign contributions are AT&T’s version of insurance to push through a deal that antitrust law deems inconceivable.

While AT&T’s influence is a big hurdle, T-Mobile’s 33 million customers could make a big difference. Let’s get a little insurance of our own by writing our representatives in Washington to let them know that we literally cannot afford this merger.