Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Gut check time for Ma Bell

Here's a news release issued by AT&T today announcing the rollout of satellite-based broadband Internet service in a deal with a satellite Internet service provider. It's an extraordinary development because AT&T is stepping out of its traditional role of being a telecom service provider and into that of a reseller of basic telecom services.

It's gut check time for Ma Bell. She needs to take a deep breath and think hard about whether she wants to be in the telecom business or just another retailer like Radio Shack or Best Buy, reselling someone else's service. And a service that's inferior to what she herself can provide. Market perceptions are incredibly important and this deal confuses and undermines the public perception of AT&T as one of the nation's preeminent telecommunications companies.

More alarmingly, the announcement could portend AT&T's abandonment of its existing wire line infrastructure outside of urban areas. Let the aged copper cables rot on the poles until the system finally gives up the ghost and customers won't even be able to make phone calls over it. Let's hope that's not the case. Otherwise much of AT&T's 13-state service area will end up like that of a third world country.

The news release offers no details as to whether this service will be offered in El Dorado County. But even if it were, your blogger -- and I suspect many other county residents and businesses -- aren't going to get excited over it since they've had the ability to go to satellite Internet providers at comparable prices and speeds long before today's rollout.

AT&T needs to stick with what it does best: providing its own telecommunications services. That means planning for the future needs of its wire line-based system and rapidly bringing the system up to where it needs to be in the Internet age and putting in place a system based on proven technology like fiber optic cable that offers a future growth path, rather than reselling someone else's satellite service.

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