AT&T Wants to Give You an 80s Makeover

If you were around in the 80s, you might be experiencing a horrible flashback right about now.

No, it’s not because legwarmers and spandex are in style again. It’s because AT&T, that monopoly that once lorded over your rotary phone, has resurfaced with a scheme to rule your mobile phone as well.

Back in the 80s, AT&T’s power was near absolute. That’s why antitrust authorities stepped in to break up the monopoly and protect the American people against abuse.

Now, with AT&T’s planned $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile, we’re reaching the danger point again. And this time control over one of the most vital forms of communication is at stake.

If regulators allow AT&T’s takeover of T-Mobile, we would be left with a wireless market that is far more consolidated than the markets for oil, banking, automobiles and air travel.

What does that mean? To achieve comparable consolidation in the oil industry, ExxonMobil would have to merge with BP, Shell, Chevron-Texaco and Citgo. And to make the comparison even more acute, these oil giants would not only merge under ExxonMobil, but you would be required to buy only ExxonMobil gas for the next two years, or pay a steep termination fee.

It means that a service that is becoming as critical to Americans as affordable, reliable water and electricity will be under the thumb of two companies that place their narrow profit incentive above the interests of everyone else.

The problems with this mega-merger are glaring and obvious enough. The real issue is whether Washington regulators are going to muster the courage to speak out and stop it.

If the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice decide to rubber-stamp this deal, you’ll likely end up paying more to have AT&T drop your calls; and access to popular applications like Skype, Slingbox and Google Earth will be limited even further … if AT&T lets you use them at all.

Thousands of mobile phone users have already flooded the FCC with comments since news of AT&T’s mega-merger became public. (The deadline for public comments is next Tuesday, May 31.)

Fortunately, some in Washington are catching on. Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday said that such mergers "always eliminate more jobs than they create. There is every likelihood that the proposed acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T could lead to both higher prices and decreased consumer choices." (Rep. Conyers' committee is convening a hearing on the issue later today.)

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who sits on the House Commerce Committee recently said the merger be a “historic mistake.”

They understand what the Justice Department knew in 1984, when it broke up the old Ma Bell: AT&T has gotten too big.

We can’t go back to the bad old days of legwarmers and AT&T. Washington must do its job and stop this merger.