Ma Bell is back. Should you be afraid?

Ma Bell is back. Blown into eight pieces by an antitrust court in 1984, AT&T, like a self-repairing robot, has slowly put itself back together. Last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission, demanding net neutrality and other conditions, approved AT&T’s acquisition of BellSouth. That will make AT&T—once again—the world’s largest technology company. And don’t just think big. Think Goliath, with about $110 billion in annual revenue, more than 300,000 employees, and 90 million paying accounts. Google, by way of comparison, brings in about $9 billion a year. Even Microsoft, at $45 billion, is a mere elephant compared to the AT&T mammoth.

So, should you be afraid? A little. AT&T will wield power over the nation’s information networks to a degree unprecedented in the Internet age. How you feel about that depends on whether you trust the company, and unfortunately, AT&T has the corporate version of a criminal record. From the 1950s through the 1970s, AT&T—while creating the greatest network on earth—also killed long-distance competition, bottled up new technologies like the cell phone and home answering machine, and resisted the innovations that were later known as “the Internet.” Some will argue that letting AT&T run the nation’s networks is like putting Hannibal Lecter in charge of making dinner.

  1. Vaslo says:

    Wow, I thought I would visit this site after hearing about it on Twit and thought I would get to read John’s humerous comments on Tech and other stuff. Instead, its basically a political blog.

    Wish you would have warned us so we didn’t waste our precious time. I could have spent this time picking my toenails or cleaning grime from my baseboards.

    Doubt we’ll meet again.

  2. Childish Personal Attacker says:

    Man, is the guy above me a butthead or what. Grime from his baseboards? Must be a double-wide trailer…

  3. Floyd says:

    I can see the potential monopoly coming again if network neutrality isn’t made permanent, but…

    Does Quest Communications still own a lot of trunk fiber optical cable out there? Or has the fiber been bought up by the “Death Star” over the years?

    Also, even in the old Ma Bell days, what’s now known as Sprint/Nextel (then, General Telephone or GTE) was the local phone service provider for many areas.

    Enlighten me if i’m missing something.

  4. Oil Of Dog says:

    Prime example of a sniper troll!!

    “Wish you would have warned us so we didn’t waste our precious time.”

    John and staff, get on that right away.

  5. Jägermeister says:

    AT&T = The corporate version of a T-1000.

  6. JT says:

    It’s a whole different commercial telecomm world from 1984. George Orwell had everything else right. My biggest concern is government policing of the telecomm system.

  7. Smith says:

    Say what you want about the old AT&T, but in 1983, we had the best phone service in the world and my monthly telephone bill was $11.95. The next year, the US Federal Court broke up AT&T and my monthly bill immediately jumped to $21.95. Yep, AT&T was sure screwing me over.

    Look at what we have today. Is phone service in the USA envied by the rest of world. No way in hell. And do you think competition is encouraged by Comcast and Verizon? Why is net neutrality even an issue?

    And today, nowhere in the world does a braintrust exists that is the equal of what was Bell Labs. From a memorial to Bell:

    “With approximately 16,000 employees in 16 countries, Bell Labs is the leading source of new communications technologies. Bell Labs has generated more than 28,000 patents since 1925 and has played a pivotal role in inventing or perfecting key communications technologies, including transistors, digital networking and signal processing, lasers and fiber-optic communications systems, communications satellites, cellular telephony, electronic switching of calls, touch-tone dialing, and modems. Bell Labs scientists have received six Nobel Prizes in Physics, nine U.S. Medals of Science and six U.S. Medals of Technology.”

    Weep for what we lost!

  8. lou says:

    Stupid statistics about corporate size floated in article: “Think Goliath, with about $110 billion in annual revenue.. Google $9 billion a year. Even Microsoft… $45 billion”

    I would think revenue comparisons are relatively useless between industries. AT&T is now basically an infrastructure company, maintaining physical plants of items which carry bits around. When I see them approach the intellectual capital of their past, or of Microsoft and Google, I’ll worry, but until then, they need to tread lightly.

    Another thought: Microsoft’s growth and profitability is STUNTED by governmental regulation (threat of antitrust) , while AT&T’s is increased (as they are “utilities” granted governmental monopolies of frequency spectrum, and right of way).

  9. Ma Bell,
    Its like a tumor no matter what you do it keeps coming back.

  10. edwinrogers says:

    #7 sounds very stable and pragmatic for one of your blog readers, perhaps we should invite him back again. Agree that what the USA needs is modest centralisation of key IT infrastructure and a way to implement national standards of service and delivery, then this news might be what you need. Other developed countries have state control over fundamental telecommunications (wholesale), and leave the sales of services and product development to free enterprise (retail). Korea and Sweden are cases in point. This might redress the lack of investment in your nations IT infrastructure.

  11. Childish Personal Attacker says:

    #9 – wouldn’t you think they are more like a hemorroid?

  12. doug says:

    #7. Oh, yeah. I remember Ma Bell. Stand in line and wait if you want a second line ot your house, or even a second outlet for the same line, and pay a real premium for it. want to buy a phone? forget about it. You have to RENT one from them. another premium. touch tone will cost you extra, too.

    anyone who owns a cordless phone or second phone outlet (ie all of us) should rejoice in the downfall of Ma Bell.

    keep an eye on that backbone. diligently demand net neutrality. in other words, keep those torches dry, because the Bride of Frankenstein could be back.

  13. Buddy says:

    AT &T wasn’t the problem. The problem is SBC is hiding under the AT&T logo. AT & T today is SBC. SBC is the most monopolistic organisation I’ve every seen. They are a chilling example of hyper aggressive business behavior. I had much less concern about ATT of yesteryear than I do of SBC in the wolf’s clothing of ATT.

    SBC (under the name AT&T) is using AT&T’s logo to encourage people to trust SBC. If the name SBC was used for all the applications, mergers and takeovers in SBC’s vision of US Telco market control, SBC would not have been allowed to do what they’ve done. Re-grown an unhealthy monopoly.

    Heads up people, if you think you are going to see innovation stifled by a giant organization, keep an eye on SBC (under the logo AT&T)

    Free enterprise, innovation and competition have taken a back seat to centralizing power and control over the future of Internetworking via SBC (as AT&T).

    Try to find a competitive small business operating an innovative telco / Internet company within the SBC (called AT&T).

    From the NY Times: “Mr. Whitacre has not been shy about paying top dollar for rivals to scare away other bidders. In the past decade, he bought three other local phone companies, Pacific Telesis Group, Southern New England Telecommunications and Ameritech Corp.

    In 2004, Cingular bought AT&T Wireless for $41 billion, and last year, SBC bought AT&T for $16.8 billion and adopted its name.

    “The empire-building continues,” said Jeffrey Halpern, an industry analyst at Sanford Bernstein. “He has a track record of gobbling competitors at premium prices.””

    10,000 jobs will be lost. Prices will increase, innovation and other disturbing competitive pressures will fall off, and perhaps they’ll bring back rotary, leased telephones and find a way to prevent the sale of any SBC(ATT) network attached device.

  14. kballweg says:

    Ma Bell was a, somewhat, regulated monopoly. Unless America gets it’s balls back from the neocons, AT&T will become a totally unregulated monopoly willing to work for big money.

    It’s all part of the myth of the “free market” that you have to be unregulated to compete. You have to be unregulated to dominate, and crush your competition, and then bleed your customers. The goal is corporate nationhood, which has noting to do with benefit for customers.

  15. tallwookie says:

    lol #1 – too bad he’s gone wont be able to read the troll bashing

    there are a lot more policitcally related posts recently though


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