Washington is awash in speculation that the nation's major communications companies are again looking for consolidation opportunities that could reduce consumer choice. The end of the FCC's spectrum auction, during which companies were prohibited from talking to each other, just may be the starting gun for a merger melee. The question is how the Trump Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission will rule on such consolidations.
President Trump has been an advocate of competition in the marketplace. We – the former heads of the DOJ's Antitrust Division and the FCC – agree with the president. Consumers lose when companies no longer need to compete on price, quality, service and contract terms. Once competitors are allowed to consolidate, the bell cannot be unrung. Short of a massive breakup effort, the reduction in competition is permanent.
Prices for wireless service — where there are four vigorous national competitors — are down nearly 13 percent in the past year, according to the latest CPI report from the Labor Department. Compare that with cable prices, where a lack of competition has allowed prices to increase 5 percent in the same time period.
When the government blocks mergers between competitors, good things happen. Recent events confirm our view. Back in 2011, AT&T sought to acquire its smaller rival T-Mobile, reducing the national providers of wireless service from four to three. The FCC and the Department of Justice sued to block the deal and it ultimately was abandoned.