Lately, anytime the gaping maw of AT&T opens, no matter what it's talking about—puppies! or unlimited data (boring) or financial data—it has to slip in at least a tiny reference to how badly the T-Mobile merger has to happen, or all of our phones are going to explode and the puppies will die and go extinct forever.
The reason being this chart, or one similar to it, showing an 8000 percent increase in data over the last couple years—which is why AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega cries himself to sleep at night on piles and piles of money. AT&T says—and has been saying repeatedly—that the $39 billion merger, which'll nuke the country's only major low-cost carrier and concentrate the vast majority of the wireless market in the hands of two mega-carriers, is the only way it can afford to deliver LTE (real 4G) to 97 percent of the country, because it needs spectrum like zombies need giant brains to feast on, and otherwise it'll cost $174 billion by 2014 to keep up. (They're also in the middle of buying a huge chunk of spectrum from Qualcomm, a deal the FCC's now going to review in concert with the T-Mobile thing.) Which is all terribly interesting, because AT&T never mentioned any of that any of the other times they talked about their LTE coverage plans again and again before they proposed the T-Mobile merger.
So this leaked letter that was briefly, accidentally posted by the FCC is neat, for a lot of reasons. For one, a number. $3.8 billion. That's how much AT&T expects to spend on top of the $39 billion deal to increase its planned LTE coverage from 80 percent of the country to 97 percent. DSL Reports further notes, "The letter highlights how the push for 97% coverage came from AT&T marketing, who was well aware that leaving LTE investment at 80% would leave them at a competitive disadvantage to Verizon" and that "AT&T's supposed decision to ‘not' build out LTE to 97% was cemented during the first week of January, yet public documents indicate that at the same time AT&T was already considering buying T-Mobile." As I noted back in March, the promise to push LTE all over the country is the biggest and best incentive AT&T has to get the merger a the thumbs up from the government.
So let's consider what happens if the merger doesn't go through, and AT&T follows through on its claims—it only pushes its LTE network to 80 percent of Americans, and its network continues to blow in certain cities and Verizon has a better 4G network. What'll happen? AT&T won't be the single most massive carrier in the country. People with shitty, slow coverage will go to Verizon. Or Sprint. Or hey, maybe even T-Mobile. Sucks for AT&T, and for some of its customers. But AT&T's doomsday isn't necessarily yours. Or mine. Well, a little mine, since I'm still an AT&T customer. I'll live. Or I'll switch. [DSL Reports]