AT&T and T-Mobile are two reputable American companies that have been central to the success of the telecom industry in changing our daily lives. Yet a recent proposal for AT&T to merge with T-Mobile has come under some scrutiny in Washington.
We can’t let skepticism in the wake of the financial crisis hinder the very market-based solutions that are necessary to lift the country out of recession.
While oversight is certainly appropriate, too many skeptics are overlooking the tremendous opportunity that this merger represents. In the absence of any new evidence to the contrary, AT&T and T-Mobile should be allowed to proceed with their plans to combine. It is expected to benefit consumers, create jobs and enhance economic development — especially in rural areas like so much of West Virginia.
Many countries worldwide can be credited as leaders in innovation. But even though they may create many useful breakthroughs, America’s reputation continues to stand above the rest. Why?
Our ability to conceive and commit to a long-term vision is among the reasons. America is a great incubator for day-to-day entrepreneurship. But coming up with a good idea is not enough for us. We strive for advances on a dramatic scale, constantly aiming to fundamentally improve our way of life.
Take for instance, the automobile. Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but he did recognize the prospect of mass production to make it part of our daily lives. And over the next few decades that followed, the Interstate Highway System was conceived and built. In relatively short order, America took an existing innovation, devoted remarkable amounts of private and government capital to it, and rendered the distances across our beautiful, expansive country surmountable to the average citizen.
Such grand visions typically take enterprises big enough to make the dream reality. A key outcome of its T-Mobile acquisition will be AT&T’s plans for an $8 billion investment in broadband infrastructure over seven years. This is essential because historically, whenever a new long-term vision emerged, we have devoted unprecedented resources toward building out infrastructure.
So developing the necessary infrastructure to unlock the full potential of a high-speed, wireless Internet is critical. Fortunately, President Obama made infrastructure the emphasis of his National Broadband Plan, which sets the goal of making broadband Internet available to every American by 2014.
This merger goes a long way toward meeting that goal. It will deliver a lot of bang for the buck because AT&T and T-Mobile are uniquely compatible to add value to consumers as soon as possible. Their spectrum positions and existing networks are complementary, which will make the entire process smooth and efficient.
As a result, AT&T claims that it will be able to make broadband available to an additional 55 million people, bringing its coverage alone to more than 97 percent of the U.S. population. Perhaps even more importantly, it will add one million square miles of coverage, which will make mobile broadband accessible even in the most remote areas of the country. This is especially true for West Virginia.
We have to continue to be able to see the possibilities beyond the doubts. In fact, we took a leap of faith to build the infrastructure that is behind our current telecommunications technology. Only a few decades ago, computers were essentially fancy calculators used primarily by scientists or other experts and were mostly hidden away in labs somewhere. But the prescient decision-makers in the Pentagon saw the communications potential of computers and got the backing to develop networks that became the ARPANET (the predecessor to the Internet).
The AT&T/T-Mobile merger doesn’t really even require such a leap of faith. We have a much greater degree of certitude in our efforts to encourage the development of 4G LTE networks than those early Internet pioneers could have had in ARPANET. If Washington is concerned about maintaining America’s innovative edge, it should allow the telecommunications industry to adapt in order to fulfill its vision. We must make broadband available to rural areas as well as urban areas. To West Virginia, as a relatively rural state, this is a big deal and the merger deserves our support.
- This commentary is reprinted from The Charleston Gazette.