Washington — Sprint could be the most visible critic
of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger, but key cable
operators competing with the companies for wireless and
WiFi customers have weighed in with big concerns of
their own about creating an AT&T/Verizon Communications
national duopoly in wireless voice and broadband.
Cablevision Systems said the deal should be denied
without conditions, while Cox Communications put a
more positive spin on the same thing, saying the deal
would need to be conditioned to be approved. Both
are looking to protect their growing interest in providing
mobile broadband service.
Cox has teamed with Sprint’s 3G net
for wireless offerings — it says it will have
rolled out wireless service to more than
50% of its footprint by year’s end — so its
call for conditions is not a big surprise.
But the wider industry is also looking
to wireless broadband
as the quad to
add to the triple play of
voice, video and data already
in its repertoire.
Cablevision’s Optimum WiFi network provides
customers with thousands of hot spots. It argues that
while that service is currently limited geographically,
it makes Cablevision competitive in the mobile broadband
business in New York, the nation’s largest market.
With smartphones now outselling PC’s, according
to the Federal Communications Commission, mobility
is a must for cable’s broadband delivery future.
New National Cable & Telecommunications Association
president Michael Powell said in a recent interview
NCTA members have been focusing on mobility
as a “critical next step” in their business plans.
Cablevision makes that point in its fi ling. “Cablevision
is committed to continuing to develop Optimum
Wife and to maximizing the use of public spectrum.
Cablevision’s mobile customers, however, increasingly
demand the ability to access its services regard less of
their physical location at any given time.” The company
said it is looking to add traditional cellular broadband
to its bundle of services, first by teaming with a wireless
carrier as Cox has, and eventually getting more
spectrum to build out its own network.
Cox argues that the elimination of T-Mobile as an
independent national carrier and potential wireless
partner for Cox in competition to AT&T and Sprint
would hurt competition and consumers.
While both AT&T and T-Mobile have downplayed
the latter’s competitive position, portraying it as a
troubled company without the ability to compete in
the 4G space. Cox says it has been an innovative alternative
and a price competiton.
Cox suggested the FCC must take with more than a
few grains of salt claims that T-Mobile is an “inconsequential
competitor whose fortunes are on the wane.”
Given that Sprint has said the merger might weaken
them or prompt them to merge themselves, Cox argued
that the deal would not only eliminate T-Mobile
as an alternative partner to Sprint, but might threaten
Cox’s existing partnership if it sold out to a carrier
less interested in that arrangement.
Cablevision said the FCC must either deny the deal
outright or, at a minimum, require the combined
company to offer wholesale data roaming to broadband
and Wi-Fi providers and require the network to
be compatible with competitors’ handsets.