AT&T and T-Mobile merger means better broadband

Initially, the deal means that T-Mobile customers will get quick access to the AT&T network, with data speeds of at least 10 megabits downstream. It means that AT&T customers will benefit from expanded spectrum and a bigger network.

Maybe even more important, with AT&T’s commitment to build out high speed broadband service to 95 percent of the country, the U.S. will begin to close the digital divide that affects so many American families, especially those in rural communities. 

The U.S. ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. And even more telling, the U.S. ranks 25th in the world in average Internet connection speeds. That’s a slower average speed than Romania. We led the world in the development of Internet technology and now we can’t seem to keep up. These aren’t just empty statistics. Internet speed matters, because that’s what makes it possible to use online applications, educational tools and services, wherever one lives. It makes running a small business in a small rural town possible. It gives inner-city kids access to resources that wealthier families can take for granted.    

Nearly 100 million Americans, many in rural communities or lower-incomes urban areas, do not have broadband at home, and as many as 24 million Americans don’t have any access at all to broadband services, according to the Federal Communications Commission. These Americans have been shut out of the Internet Age, because they lack the access, computers and skills necessary to participate in our digital society.

Last year, the FCC adopted a national broadband plan as a roadmap to reach the 21st Century broadband networks our nation needs. High speed broadband is the economic engine of the 21st century and is a key stimulus for economic development. But how do we get there?

In the U.S., it’s private investment that builds out broadband networks, fueling jobs, innovation and economic growth. AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile provides an opportunity to move us ahead. This no-debt deal leaves more resources for quick buildout. And the benefits of expanded high speed broadband truly are limitless.

For residents in West Virginia, for example, an expanded network will be a night and day change, with high speed broadband finally available to support education and economic development.

This expansion of wireless broadband can’t take the place of needed wireline high speed broadband to schools, hospitals and other critical community institutions. But it moves us a great step forward in bringing the promise of the Internet Age to millions of U.S. residents who have no access to affordable service and providing the stimulus for economic development that our nation needs.

There’s another benefit to AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile. And that is to bring better employment security and a management record of full neutrality for workers who want to make their own choice about having a bargaining voice.

Bargaining rights for workers is another area where the U.S. lags far behind the rest of the developed economies. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom, which owns T-Mobile, fully recognizes workers’ bargaining rights. Ver.di, the German union representing those workers, is a full and positive partner

That’s not the case in the U.S., not at DT’s subsidiary T-Mobile, where an atmosphere of fear keeps workers from even taking a leaflet about their right to have a union, or at most other U.S. employers. AT&T has been an exception, by following a policy of true neutrality to enable workers to make their own choices.

Larry Cohen is president of the Communications Workers of America, representing 700,000 workers in telecommunications, media, airlines, manufacturing, public service and health care.