Originally created 03/09/06

Curb Ma Bell's comeback bid



If it was a good idea for the government to break up AT&T in 1984 - and it was, indeed, a very good and long overdue idea - we see no sense in letting the mother of all monopolies reassemble itself a generation later.

Like Freddy Krueger - the human monster that kept coming back in the Friday the 13th movies - Ma Bell appears to be coming back to life with its $67 billion bid on BellSouth stock.

According to the Associated Press, the merged company would have 70 million local line phone customers, 54.1 million wireless subscribers, and nearly 10 million broadband subscribers in the 22 states, including Georgia and South Carolina, where it now operates.

This would make it the nation's largest phone company. It would also give AT&T total control of Cingular Wireless, the joint venture it has with BellSouth.

After spending millions to re-brand AT&T Wireless Services stores as Cingular and hundreds millions more on marketing the new name after Cingular's $1 billion acquisition of AT&T Wireless in 2004, Cingular will now become AT&T if the BellSouth merger goes through.

Analysts say the proposed purchase, announced Sunday, will go a long way toward resurrecting the AT&T telecommunications monopoly that, after a long and bitter antitrust fight, was broken up into seven regional "Baby Bell" companies 22 years ago.

That marked one of the largest antitrust actions in U.S. history, second only to the forced breakup in 1911 of John Rockefeller's Standard Oil Co. Although Ma Bell's divestiture created some confusion at the outset, over time the benefits of deregulation and increased competition began to assert themselves.

Why spoil it now? Suddenly in the name of consolidation and efficiency - for the company, not necessarily the consumer- competition is bad and a new monopoly, or near monopoly, is good? We can't buy that.

Monopolies, or companies large enough to dominate an industry, may benefit consumers in the short run - it's how they consolidate power and crush the competition - but over the long run consumers are denied options and charged higher prices for poorer service.

And does anyone seriously think that eliminating up to 10,000 jobs - as this merger would - will improve telecommunications service? We doubt it, as do do most consumer groups.

Let's urge our two-state congressional delegations to put the heat on the U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust Division to take a hard look at the pending Ma Bell-BellSouth deal.

Seven years ago, the feds wisely blocked MCI WorldCom Inc.'s $115 billion bid to take over Sprint Corp. because of that would-be merger's monopolistic tendencies. This latest telecommunications power-grab should also be struck down. Keep Ma Bell in her cage.