It’s no secret that, for more than a decade, the United States has fallen behind nearly every other developed country when it comes to broadband speed and proliferation. AT&T, in its continuing lobbying efforts to push approval of its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA, claims it will invest an additional $8 billion (over and above its annual $19 billion capital expenditures) to build out a next-generation, high-speed, wireless broadband network covering 97 percent of Americans.

That’s all well and good, provided such a deployment really happens (and it could take another six years to get to near-ubiquitous LTE); and then there are the concerns surrounding more industry consolidation and a probable increase in subscriber prices. AT&T has cultivated some strange bedfellows to forward its merger cause.

During the latest in an ongoing spate of panels debating the pros and cons of the pending merger, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) extolled the advantages of this deal but the question remains: For whom?

Speaking this morning at an Economic Policy Institute-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., Debbie Goldman, a research economist at the CWA, admitted her group and AT&T (the largest unionized company in the private sector) are “at odds all the time” but that AT&T’s CWA workers “realize they have an organization that represents them.”

She then pointed out that the melding of AT&T with T-Mobile, thus forming what essentially will be a wireless duopoly in this country (with Verizon), benefits T-Mobile workers more than any anticipated Sprint alliance would have. (To read more, click here and here).

“AT&T is the better choice because AT&T and T-Mobile use the same technology,” she noted. “Sprint still hasn’t been able to make its Nextel deal work, and [a Sprint buyout] would have resulted in another ‘negative drag.’” According to Goldman, “there will be integration from Day One, and any AT&T customer who has complained about dropped calls will see that situation resolved.” She also said broadband rollouts would be accelerated, and that a quick deployment timeline should be part of the contract.

But here’s the real CWA deal: An AT&T/T-Mobile merger would be its chance to finally unionize T-Mobile workers, something it has tried to do for more than a decade. T-Mobile corporate offices long have instituted a hard line against unionization and, so far, organizers have been unable to crack the T-Mobile barrier of collecting enough signed cards from T-Mobile techs and call-center reps to add those employees to the CWA fold. And, Goldman said, Sprint closed down a call center in San Francisco rather than let it go union.

“We are looking for a majority of T-Mobile workers to sign cards to let the union in,” Goldman said. “We have been working closely with T-Mobile employees for the past four years. We know that, once this merger has been approved, they will have the opportunity for representation.”

Goldman also noted that Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and CEO, has admitted there could be some “short-term reductions,” but that the company would bring those jobs back eventually.

In separate but related news, seven public-interest and consumer groups today asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to hold public field hearings on AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile.

“Holding hearings would be consistent with the Commission’s recent actions to increase public participation in its proceedings. In fact, the Commission has previously held field hearings about proposed mergers and other topics that greatly impact consumers,” said the letter, which was signed by Public Knowledge, Consumers Union, Free Press, Future of Music Coalition, Media Access Project, National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation.

The proposed takeover is a “matter of great public concern” because of the additional market concentration and losses of jobs, among other “serious repercussions,” the letter said.

– Debra Baker

The Daily


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