Mobile telecoms in America美国移动通讯业
An audacious merger with a poor reception（注1）联姻大胆，反响不佳
AT&T’s ambitious bid to reshape America’s wireless market has spooked rivals. But it faces significant hurdles
PEOPLE who enjoy poking fun at the patchy quality of AT&T’s mobile-phone network in America were provided with some fresh comedy material this week. “So, AT&T and T-Mobile are getting married. You’re all invited. But there will be no reception afterwards,” tweeted one wag after news emerged on March 20th that AT&T had bid a breathtaking $39 billion for T-Mobile USA, a smaller wireless operator owned by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom.
在美国，AT&T移动电话网络质量不稳常遭人取笑，那些以此为乐的人，本周有了新鲜笑料。3月20日，AT&T以390亿美元的惊人出价，竞购德国Deutsche Telekom公司旗下的小型无线通讯运营商T-Mobile USA，新闻曝光后，一条段子在Twitter上风传：“于是，AT&T跟T-Mobile喜结良缘。人人获邀出席。但之后却无人设宴，也无人赴宴。”
Amusing as this is, the deal itself is no laughing matter. On the contrary, the proposed merger, which needs the approval of antitrust and telecoms regulators, has sparked a good deal of controversy over whether it will be good or bad for American consumers. Some members of Congress have called for a thorough review of the transaction and consumer groups have been quick to condemn it.
Their concern is hardly surprising. America’s four largest mobile-phone operators—AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel—already account for 82% of the national market. Assuming the transaction goes ahead as planned, AT&T would add T-Mobile’s 34m customers to the 96m that it had at the end of 2010, propelling it well ahead of Verizon, its main rival.
他们如此关注，并不足为奇。美国四大移动电话运营商——AT&T、Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA及Sprint Nextel，已占全美无线通讯市场的82%。去年底，AT&T用户达9600万，倘若交易如期进行，T-Mobile的3400万用户也收归帐下，AT&T就将大大领先其主要竞争对手Verizon。
Critics of the deal, which AT&T hopes to complete within 12 months, say it will undermine efforts made many years ago to inject more competition into America’s telecoms industry. In the mid-1970s the government started investigating AT&T’s dominant position in fixed-line telephones, which led to the break up in 1984 of “Ma Bell” into eight pieces. Could the bid for T-Mobile be a sign that monopoly Ma is trying to return from her grave?
AT&T maintains that its deal will not be anticompetitive, even though it will leave it and Verizon with a combined 70% share of the American market, up from 58%. It points out that the average inflation-adjusted price for wireless services in America fell by 50% from 1999 to 2009 according to the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, even though there were several large mergers involving mobile-phone companies during that period. The company also argues that many local markets in America still have five or more mobile-phone firms pitching for customers’ business, so taking T-Mobile out of the mix should not dent competition.
Fans of the deal reckon such arguments should be enough to convince regulators. Hal Singer of Navigant Economics, a consulting firm, notes that although T-Mobile’s prices are low, it has been losing subscribers rapidly, which suggests that it is hardly an effective check on AT&T. That may explain why Deutsche Telekom is so keen to say auf Wiedersehen to its American wireless business.
支持交易的人认为，上述理由足以说服监管机构。咨询公司Navigant Economics的Hal Singer注意到，尽管T-Mobile的服务价格低廉，订户却一直迅速流失，表明对AT&T的攻势难以阻遏。这可以解释，Deutsche Telekom何以如此热衷向其美国无线通讯业务道“再见”。
However, an antitrust expert says that exclusive, nationwide device deals such as the one AT&T struck with Apple in 2007 for distribution of the latter’s iPhone could encourage regulators to take a far broader view of the market than they have done in the past, not least because in smartphones, the near-duopoly of AT&T and Verizon will be so much stronger.
At an industry conference this week, Dan Hesse, the boss of Sprint Nextel, gave warning that allowing AT&T to walk off with T-Mobile would leave “too much power…in the hands of two”. The Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members include firms such as Google and Facebook, echoed that sentiment. In a statement on March 22nd it said that the proposed deal “may be the most aggressive and anti-consumer merger proposal in history.”
本周，在一场业界会议上，Sprint Nextel老板Dan Hesse警告，允许AT&T带走T-Mobile，会导致“两者掌握的力量过多”。“计算机与通信产业联盟”也附和此观点。其成员包括Google跟Facebook之类的企业。3月22日，该联盟发表了一份声明，称这桩交易提案“可能是史上最咄咄逼人又反消费者的并购提议。”
AT&T’s plan could also hit another snag. In several previous mergers between mobile-phone companies regulators have required the merging businesses to sell wireless spectrum, network infrastructure and other assets in some local markets to win their approval. This has allowed smaller competitors such as US Cellular and MetroPCS to snap up the assets, turning them into stronger rivals in those areas. AT&T has made it clear it is willing to do the same thing to get a green light for its deal. But given the great clout the new entity would have, regulators may conclude that even a large number of disposals would not guarantee robust competition in some areas.
An annual report on the state of America’s wireless industry published last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which along with the Department of Justice must approve AT&T’s bid, shows that regulators were already concerned about the state of competition in mobile telephony before this week’s news. Having previously affirmed, year after year, that the industry was “effectively competitive”, it declined to do so, though it made no specific recommendations on how to improve matters.
Wrapped in the flag假爱国真谋私
All this explains why AT&T has been doing its best to drape its deal in the Stars and Stripes. Among other things, it argues that T-Mobile’s subscribers will be able to benefit from its investment in a new, fourth-generation (4G) high-speed wireless broadband network, which will further the Obama administration’s goal of creating a connected population. (Deutsche Telekom was supposedly unwilling to make a similar investment in its infrastructure.) AT&T also trumpets the fact that its deal would transform T-Mobile from a foreign-owned outfit into an American one.
But nationalistic considerations should not be allowed to obscure the underlying impact that the proposed deal would have on consumers. Indeed, America’s politicians and regulators would do well to look at other countries’ experience before reaching a decision on AT&T’s bid.
Canada provides a cautionary tale. There, three big companies, TELUS, Bell Mobility and Rogers Communications, were together allowed to gain control of almost 95% of the wireless market. Amid complaints about high call rates (among the rich world’s priciest) and a lack of innovation, the government used a spectrum auction in 2008 to create a raft of new players. But these have largely struggled against the industry’s behemoths.
加拿大的故事可资警醒。该国三大巨头——TELUS, Bell Mobility及Rogers Communications，获准联手掌控了加国95%的无线通讯市场。加拿大话费高昂，全球最贵，且缺乏创新，民众对此抱怨连连，对此，2008年，加政府利用频谱拍卖方式来产生新玩家。不过这些企业应对该国垄断巨头竞争，大多要苦苦挣扎。
British regulators are taking steps to avoid a similar fate. On March 22nd the country’s telecoms regulator said it would auction a chunk of radio spectrum next year for 4G services. And it said it wanted to manage the auction so as to ensure the country will have at least four national mobile-phone operators capable of providing consumers with higher-quality wireless data services.
Thanks to AT&T’s move this week, American regulators will now have to decide how best to defend the interests of consumers there. Mobile-phone users will be hoping that they dial C for choice rather than D for duopoly.
注1：An audacious merger with a poor reception
audacious merger 与poor reception都语带双关。
audacious merger的merger表面指AT&T针对T-Mobile的bid，又呼应AT&T and T-Mobile are getting married这句，俏皮地将其比喻为联姻。
而audacious则指390亿美元的惊人出价，同时指此次并购faces significant hurdles，并且 has sparked a good deal of controversy。
poor reception一方面指AT&T的并购交易引发各方质疑，不受欢迎，一方面又呼应the patchy quality of AT&T’s mobile-phone network in America这句，暗指AT&T的移动电话网络信号接收不良。