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Hey, AT&T, quit whining!

Instead of complaining about the FCC's decision to squash the T-Mobile merger and blaming the agency for raising prices, AT&T needs to shut up and move on.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
4 min read
AT&T, T-Mobile's broken merger

I can't match the sultry tones of Julie London, but if I could I'd croon for AT&T to cry me a river.

You see, America's favorite carrier is a bit peeved at the Federal Communications Commission for squashing its $39 billion dream of acquiring T-Mobile. Not only did the carrier lose its chance to pick over the corpse of a competitor for more wireless spectrum, but also it had to pay T-Mobile a $3 billion breakup fee, which partially contributed to a massive $6.7 billion loss in the last quarter.

If I were a member of AT&T's brass, I suppose that I'd be disappointed, too. But I don't work for AT&T so I'm only going to channel Nell Carter here and wail, "Give me a break!" That I can do.

Just consider the comments made by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call yesterday, where he bemoaned the lack of a clear spectrum policy from the FCC and Congress.

"In the absence of [spectrum] auctions, our company, and others in the industry, have taken the logical step of entering into smaller transactions to acquire the spectrum we need to meet this demand," he said. "But unfortunately, even the smallest and most routine spectrum deals are receiving intense scrutiny from this FCC...it appears the FCC is intent on picking winners and losers rather than letting these markets work."

Hear that, AT&T? That's the whaaambulance going by.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson speaking last year during Mobile World Congress. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Really, Randall, I'm completely floored that you can even say that with a straight face (then again, you were on a conference call at the time, so maybe you were smiling). Though you probably weren't referring to T-Mobile at that moment, it's insulting to every English speaker on the planet for you to imply, however cautiously, that a $39 billion transaction is anything but enormous.

It was the A380 of mergers! It was worth $39 billion! It would have resulted in the largest wireless carrier by far, limited customer choice, and drowned a carrier that on the whole has been more innovative than you have. How can you even put the two together in the same call?

Honestly, this line of thinking is as laughable as the original FCC filing, when AT&T suggested, among other things, that the merger was good for America and that MetroPCS and Cricket were some of its biggest competitive threats. It's like I'm reading a script for a skit from a future geek episode on "Saturday Night Live."

And don't give me this business about the FCC picking winners and losers. Even if the rules are "fluid" as he suggested, the FCC is the federal agency charged with overseeing the limited amount wireless spectrum that we have. Unlike most of the windbags currently roaming Capitol Hill, this was a case of the federal government doing its job. And it wasn't only the FCC, it was the Department of Justice and some well-reasoned state attorneys general.

This is what effective regulation of corporate greed is supposed to look like. Not all mergers are a good idea because you say that they are. This was one of them.

Now I'll agree that there's a lack of clear spectrum policy in this country and that the feds need to get a plan into gear. What's more, the FCC's idea for incentive auctions isn't the equivalent of a magic wand. Yet, that is no reason in the slightest for Stephenson to justify raising prices as he did later in the call.

"This environment has clear implication for our business," he said. "Demand [for data] continues to accelerate so we'll continue to do a number of things...in a capacity constrained environment, usage based data rates, increased pricing, managing the speeds of the highest volume users. These are logical and necessary steps to manage utilization."

Yes, AT&T customers, you read that correctly. Because AT&T can't get more spectrum, and because it pursued an ill-advised and destructive method for pursuing more spectrum, it has to raise your prices. Do you feel that on your face? That's AT&T spitting on it.

By that point in that call, and I must point out that I was only about 10 minutes in, I felt like banging my head against the wall because it would have been less painful. Customers should not pay for your mistakes, AT&T, nor should they pay for ineffective politicians who care more about about disagreeing than they do about getting something done.

The person who wrote this speech needs to be fired. Every word is more of an affront to me and to each of your customers than one joke from a Don Rickles stand-up routine. It's offensive, idiotic, and bullying.

Before signing off, Stephenson inferred that the FCC's inaction on spectrum also means that AT&T won't be able to create jobs through capital investment projects. In case you're wondering, AT&T used a similar "It will create jobs!" line when promoting the merger.

How AT&T got some civil rights groups and labor unions to mouth that same promise will remain one of my life's deeper mysteries, especially since the consolidation of two major carriers (and two major GSM carriers) would likely have resulted in job losses through the elimination of redundancies.

Seriously, AT&T, the cliches here are endless, from the world's smallest violin to asking if you want more cheese with your whine. Yet, I'll leave with you with something a little more basic.

You lost, so suck it up.