Telecoms have gotten a bum rap since the 1830s.
No sooner was the telegraph invented, than statesmen like Henry Clay were deeming it too important to leave to private markets.
Within a few decades, Europe had nationalized its networks, and Congress debated doing the same until well into the 20th century, when scrutiny shifted toward the telephone.
At first, the common complaint was that private networks were too balkanized, and needed standardization - and once AT&T (NYSE:T) had standardized them, it was complained that they were too monopolistic.
People hated Ma Bell, they hated the Baby Bells, and today, they hate the cellular providers that slap them with overage fees and $.05 texts. The only thing that seems to have changed is that now we can download HD videos from space.
AT&T and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) currently rule the roost, controlling two-thirds of the U.S. mobile market.
Their subscriber bases are growing, and the companies are routinely accused of trying to bring back the good old days of the Bell era.
The Obama administration has announced its intention to auction off portions of the radio spectrum previously reserved for the federal government, and since AT&T and Verizon are expected to walk off with the lion’s share, the two big carriers are coming under increasingly vitriolic attacks.
Several weeks ago, the New York Times called them an oligopoly, and lobbyists for local and regional networks have been making the same argument in Washington.
They cite the FCC, which has been “unable to find ‘effective competition’ in the wireless industry in … its last three annual competition reports.”