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What Would AT&T, T-Mobile Merger Mean for OR?

June 23, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - The much-publicized AT&T merger with T-Mobile is not a "done deal;" it will likely be year's end before a decision is made on whether to allow the two companies to create a telecommunications giant. In the meantime, many are speculating about what it could mean for both companies' customers in Oregon and elsewhere, in terms of rates and wireless access.

In Oregon, AT&T has said a merger with T-Mobile would mean better cell phone access for much more of the state, and eventually, a super-fast type of wireless data connection known as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) - although the company has not given a timeline.

However, a spokeswoman for the Center for Media Justice, a national media watchdog group, forecasts another result of the merger. Amalia Deloney warns it could result in higher rates for cell phone service.

"Not only will prices for T-Mobile customers go up - on average, somewhere between $30 and $50 a month - but the ability for AT&T to set a price point that's well beyond what people can afford is completely possible."

Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) says he is likely to schedule a hearing on the merger in his House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, although Congress does not make the final call. That is up to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department. Walden has been critical of the FCC, and has said he wants some assurance that a merger would promote competition and encourage innovation in technology.

This week, New York became the third state to question the proposed merger and what it could mean for prices for cell phone and wireless service. The merger would create the largest carrier in the U.S., leaving 80 percent of the market under the control of only three companies.

Deloney is encouraged by the dissenting views about the merger that states and consumer groups presented to the FCC.

"They made incredibly strong statements about cost, about competition, about whether, in fact, AT&T really needed this merger to be able to deliver on the promises it had made."

California and Louisiana also have indicated concerns about the merger.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission did not submit comments. It has jurisdiction over land-line phone service in the state, but not over wireless providers.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR