AT&T buying T-Mobile USA dance net neutralityToday AT&T announced that it has entered into an agreement with Deutsche Telecom to purchase T-Mobile USA, and if you believe the PR spin— “commits to a significant expansion of robust 4G LTE deployment to 95 percent of the U.S. population to reach an additional 46.5 million Americans beyond current plans – including rural communities and small towns.”

I might point out that many of those rural communities and small towns today have but one choice for wireless service. And still will.

In its press release AT&T went on to state that “this helps achieve the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and President Obama’s goals to connect every part of America to the digital age.” But is that goal of connecting every American predicated on handing the job over to providers who have always decried a lack of spectrum, despite decades of infrastructure investments that never delivered as promised. Technology advancements in devices and media seem to show how quickly infrastructure becomes just within a few years.

There is the service provider argument where the current and future advance of digital media technology and the US consumer’s lust for content anytime and anywhere is outstripping the carriers’ network infrastructure capability to deliver it into the foreseeable future.

There is the internet companies’ argument that the Web is being sectioned off by service providers, demanding that all content must go across their pipes, while continuing to increase access costs- triple play programs that double in price over time and the elimination of unlimited mobile data plans in favor of tiered ones that bring in more profits for boards and stockholders.

Which side, and who’s argument are you on?

My monthly internet access and mobile phone plan bill (one provider) is about to eclipse that of my natural gas and electric bills combined (in the coldest month in New England). The same service providers who complain about the American consumers’ thirst for media are the same ones trying to sell me their new “anytime, anywhere” access offerings that effectively control some of the content that I’ve already paid for.

Here’s what’s happened in just the past 45 days—

  • Comcast was given the go ahead by the FCC and the Justice Department to purchase NBC Universal, with conditions that online rivals be allowed to license NBC programming.
  • Not content to allow the major service providers to lock up quality programming, Netflix, which now has more subscribers than the biggest Telco, is teaming up with David Fincher to air ‘House of Cards,’ effectively outbidding the premium cable networks.
  • Amazon continues to build a content factory as it too tries to show that the internet brands need to play in the quality programming distribution space.
  • Apple announced a 30% levy on publishers who charge for subscriptions in its App Store, effectively impacting a publishers’ profits if they want to reach an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, won’t allow publishers to offer the same subscriptions at lower prices elsewhere, and consumers don’t have to share their subscription details with publishers.
  • The White House last week proposed sweeping revisions to U.S. copyright law that included “illegal streaming” of audio or video a federal felony, allowing FBI agents to wiretap suspected infringers, most likely driven by the major Hollywood studios.
  • And AT&T is buying T-Mobile USA.

This is a very big dance at a very small members-only ball. Just how the American consumer stands to benefit from these agreements, acquisitions, and posturings for turf remains to be seen. Every player has their PR spin cycle on high.

Will Comcast take content off of NBC Universal online sites or create larger time gaps between its broadcast and online availability?

Will the online video players be able to further raise cash in hopes of acquiring access to popular broadcast and film content?

Will Netflix succeed as a new age distributor and content creator, or will the Telcos put it out of business like they so desire?

Will Amazon propose a serious threat to the other video distribution networks?

Will Apple get away with its new publisher T’s and C’s as the FCC looks in the details?

Will the proposed sweeping revisions to U.S. copyright law result in Verizon, ATT, Comcast, and others etc. become more involved in digital spying for law enforcement agencies? Is this payback to Hollywood for generous campaign contributions from past elections?

How does one less carrier result in more choice?

Somehow I don’t see the American consumer coming out on top of all this dancing. The major service providers are all trying to inflict Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on the over the top (OTT) and cord cutting movement, throwing lots of pre-paid statistics out there. If there is a will and a way to stop it from increasing, it will be tried.

But I for one, as an American consumer first, and an industry analyst second, am getting tired of a $450- $500 monthly internet, cable TV, and cellular phone bill with nothing to watch when I want to watch it, and for upload and download speeds that are below most other developed nations.

America’s inability to provide cheap, fast broadband (fixed or mobile) on par with that of other technologically advanced nations isn’t because of a lack of spectrum, its because of a dance that has always been invitation only.

– Randy Giusto