To: FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
CC: WSJ Editorial Page
Re: AT&T Merger with Bell South, Net Neutrality or Why There Is Still No Phone Competition in Long Valley, NJ
I know it must be tough for you these days as the last check into this bad for consumer deal between the new, new, we swear we won't do no evil AT&T and Bell South. Especially now that Robert McDowell decided to abstain from voting on the merger which results in a 2-2 tie between Republicans and Democrats at the FCC. Wow to think how billions hang in the balance between 4 people. That's quite a challenge, so let me, as a 10 year veteran of the old and better AT&T give you some advice. Sure this is free, but if you study the downfall of AT&T you will realize that the current uncompetitive environment is much of a result of bad management by C. (how) Michael (bought Excite@Home and TCI high and sold them very low) Armstrong and lies and underdeliveries by the Baby Bells of the promised made in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
I submit to you my recent experience with home service in beautiful Long Valley, NJ which is a mere 30 minutes via a country road to the old AT&T HQ and now the current Verizon HQ in Basking Ridge NJ. Back in the day when that building was filled with veterans of the long distance wars, people actually switched carriers and received offers. In fact, towards the end of my time there we had plans to invade the local business and the Baby Bells had plans to invade ours. I can remember the first time Bell Atlantic/Verizon actually started appearing on outpic reports (just in case you don't know what an outpic is that's when someone actually switches their LD carrier). A funny thing about Long Valley is that both Embarq (the worst brand name ever) and Verizon split local service here. You can bet that Verizon would love to have the whole town, but sigh they don't want to invade the territory because well they don't have to because why rock the boat. This is what happens when regulators like yourself allowed the telecommunications industry to become an oligopoly - the kind where prices don't drop because they know the outcome - no response.
So what did I get as an credit card billed, online care, all you can eat long distance customer that never bothered AT&T when I wanted to switch? Nothing. Zilch. Oh I did get a lousy customer service rep located in India who after giving me my outpic (there's that word again) confirmation number offered to give me 7 cents instate LD for a lousy monthly fee (ugh), AT&T CallAdvantage (why would I want crappy VOIP), or get this WorldNet dial-up (words can not describe the futility). I thought for a second the rep was going to offer me cash to stay (you remember those tricks), but then he caught himself when he realized that I was out of territory (probably forever) so I can't have local or their great TV service that may arrive by 2020. He could have offered some wireless offer because I used to have AT&T Wireless Service back when I was AT&T's bundle boy, but sadly, the new, forgetful AT&T doesn't care about bungling, err I mean bundling wireless and LD anymore.
Why the lack of save programs or wireless bundles? Simple. There is no competition in a state like NJ and won't be for the near future. And, that Mr. Martin gets to the heart of the Net Neutrality argument. Yes. Net Neutrality. See I agree in concept that if you lay the pipes for high speed than you should be able to charge whatever you want. What makes this easier for the Baby Bells is that they are allowed to have a virtual monopoly in a region and charge whatever they want for local service, because there is no competition. They don't need to waste valuable dollars in customer care or marketing or promotions because they don't need to. What's an angry customer supposed to do? Switch to the equally frustrating cable companies? Yeah right. Fact is Net Neutrality is an issue because they are controlling both ends of the pipe thanks to regulators like yourself who hide behind free markets that don't exist (take some notes WSJ).
Yes, I do believe in our economy, free markets, and that if all things being equal, competition will give consumers more choices and better prices. However, it doesn't work when you allow each Baby Bell to have a virtual monopoly in their territory, resulting in no alternatives for consumers. Use your own experience and see if you can switch services. Competition doesn't exist and this merger shouldn't be allowed to go through without significant concessions.