AT&T, T-Mobile Deal: What Could It Mean for Consumers?

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"AT&T is already a giant in the wireless marketplace, where customers routinely complain about hidden charges and other anti-consumer practices," Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement. "From a consumer's perspective, it's difficult to come up with any justification or benefits from letting AT&T swallow up one of its few major competitors. We plan to work very closely with regulators and lawmakers to carefully scrutinize this deal and what it would mean to people's pocketbooks."

AT&T-T-Mobile Merger

If you want a quick snapshot of the major issues the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile deal poses for consumers, take a look at Consumer Reports' five key questions below:

Will service be more like T-Mobile's or AT&T's? Consumer Reports' best guess is that AT&T's service will win out, which is a loss for consumers. "Neither carrier is among the very best in satisfaction in our latest Ratings of cell-phone carriers, based on a survey of readers' experiences and available to subscribers," Reynolds wrote in the blog post today. "But those survey results found AT&T to be the clear worst wireless carrier in the country, with below average scores in almost every attribute."

Will T-Mobile customers see rate hikes? Most analysts think the answer is "yes." T-Mobile charges less than most competitors, and Consumer Reports says it's possible that after the merger these cheaper plans will continue only as long as it's contractually obliged to provide them.

Can Sprint survive? According to Consumer Reports, The AT&T-T-Mobile deal would make Sprint a distant third behind the other giants, which has led some analysts to speculate that Sprint might also seek a merger partner remain a viable competitor.

Will network coverage improve? Some analysts say that by combining networks, the deal expands coverage areas for customers. But Reynolds points out that the two companies' smartphones run on different wavelengths -- "T-Mobile's 3G and 4G phones use the 1.7/2.1-GHz bands, while AT&T's 3G/4G phones operate in the 850/1900-MHz bands."

Will the deal be approved by regulators? The consensus, so far, according to Consumer Reports, is that the decision will take a while and, if the FCC approves the match, it will be conditional. "For one, the FCC, among the key regulatory bodies that will assess the deal, has already expressed concern about the state of the wireless market, opting last year to declare it not competitive," Reynolds said.

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