Joshua Topolsky Avatar

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AT&T, T-Mobile, and monopolies

In the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of rage over the coming merger of AT&T and T-Mobile here in the states. Most of the anger has been swirling around the idea of monopolies and an increasing reduction in choice for consumers. But here’s my question: how do you avoid “monopolies” like this, and still provide the kind of bandwidth and service that a country of 300 million people over 3,794,101 square miles requires?

Unfortunately, I think the answer will bother a lot of people. I think the answer is Net Neutrality. Or more specifically, a government issued and regulated mandate to build out spectrum that everyone in the industry can use and no one can wholly own. That means that companies like Verizon and AT&T would have to compete on real things like phones, features, and pricing… instead of how much land they grabbed. It also means we need a government to act for its people, not lobbyists and big business.

Now of course, this sounds scary and foreign (literally) to a lot of people — but cell service is quickly moving from a luxury to a necessity (some might argue the move has already occurred), and if you want to blanket the USA, as a private company you basically have to have a monopoly. So either we need an override, a bigger force that allows a real free market play (which means we have to give up a little free market for just a short bit), or all of the carriers suddenly wake up and want to play nice to build out a shared spectrum.

But that seems unrealistic. I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it too. I don’t think the carriers will work together, and I don’t think we can let 25 different carriers have 25 different spectrums — that’s ultimately bad for business and the end user. I know this is a more complicated idea that requires bigger brains than mine to be tackled, but I also know (or at least strongly feel) that it’s something that needs to happen if we’re going to move forward from a technological standpoint. We need something better, something smarter. But is there any way we can remove politics and greed from this debate and actually do what’s best for human beings for once? I don’t see that on the horizon just yet.

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