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Consumers may be losers in an AT&T merger with T-Mobile

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T-Mobile has been a low-cost leader with consumer-friendly pricing plans for both voice and data. It also has a decent track record for service, unlike AT&T, which ranked at the bottom of the pack for customer satisfaction in a recent Consumer Reports survey. Which corporate culture is likely to prevail after the merger?

Each cellphone market in the US has a different mix of providers, including some smaller players. Regulators from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Justice Department will need to take a close look at the effects on consumers on a market-by-market basis. The US House will hold hearings as well, putting a welcome additional spotlight on the deal.

The Obama administration has already allowed a couple of large mergers. Online ticket service Ticketmaster bought out Live Nation Inc., a concert promoter, related businesses to be sure, but not direct competitors.

The administration also allowed Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV company, to absorb NBC-Universal, the TV network. Again, the businesses were closely related – one creates content and the other distributes it – but they weren’t principally direct competitors, such as AT&T and T-Mobile now are.

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