Telecom PR: Let’s Play Monopoly
Amid last week’s frenzy over AT&T/T-Mobile, the merger’s real object might have been obscured. Forget the public-spirited talk about expanding national broadband access. Look beyond concerns over loss of one competitor. This deal is about the coming re-monopolization of telecom in the age of wireless.
For the big picture, consider a few data milestones en route to what could become an inevitable destination:
- Per CTIA, U.S. wireless penetration grew from 13% in 1995 to to 96% in 2010. Today there are 302.9 million wireless subscriber connections in the U.S. versus 33.8 million in 1995.
- Switched access lines dropped 10% in 2010 per the latest FCC study issued earlier this year, continuing a decade-long decline.
- Incumbent wireline providers have encouraged this trend, recommending that customers give up traditional handsets and go completely wireless.
- As of 2010, more than 26% of American homes had only wireless phones — up from 20.2% in 2008 and 17% in 2005 — according to surveys by the Centers for Disease Control. More Americans are “cutting the cord” and giving up their wireline phones.
Where’s this all leading? A couple of wild guesses. . .What if:
- over the next decade, the wireline business became a footnote in carriers’ annual reports?
- even today’s much-lauded FTTX (fiber to the home, business, whatever) is remembered simply as a stopgap measure until cheaper, easier/faster to deploy mobile broadband became ubiquitous?
- under the current business model charging for network service (see alternative), most of the money in telecom comes from wireless?
- only one company provided the service?
Sound “unthinkable”? Maybe not. Remember that for over 70 years — from 1913 to 1984 — the old Bell System lorded it over U.S. telecom. During that time many believed that the industry constituted a “natural monopoly.” Some still do. If AT&T/T-Mobile passes regulatory approvals, can AT&T/Verizon be far behind?
Sound laughable? So did the idea of divesting AT&T in 1979. So did the idea of putting the Bell System back together after divestiture occurred in 1984, yet that with only slight variation is what we’re seeing today. In this business, if you wait long enough the inconceivable invariably comes to pass.
Jim Crawford is the president and founder of Crawford PR. In Crawford blogs, he offers hard-earned perspective on public relations for the tech and broadband industries.