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Bringing high-speed to the bean field (UPDATED)

While the Federal Communications Commission weighs the pros and cons of allowing an AT&T merger with T-Mobile, Arkansas legislators and agriculture officials are openly advocating for the transaction. If the $39 billion deal is allowed, proponents say AT&T would use T-Mobile’s network to bring high-speed internet access to rural America in a big way.

For more, see here.

“The recently announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile will result in a dramatic increase in mobile broadband services, as AT&T deploys high-speed 4G LTE service to more than 97 percent of the U.S. population,” wrote Arkansas state Sen. Gene Jeffress and Rep. Jerry Brown (who both chair agriculture committees in the Arkansas legislature)in a recent joint op-ed. “That means that 55 million more Americans will have access than would without the merger.

“By bridging the technology gap that rural communities in Arkansas currently face, we can lay the groundwork for advancements in healthcare, education, and most importantly in this economy – job growth.

“In the last century, Arkansans in remote and rural areas waited decades for the arrival of electrical lines and paved roadways.  With the expansion of next-generation LTE networks, they will not have to wait for miles of cable to be strung to every home and business in order to take advantage of emerging technologies.”

In mid-July, Dick Bell, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture, wrote to the FCC urging the merger be approved. “Adopting advances in technology on the farm and rural communities currently is a challenge due to limited availability of high-speed broadband access. Arkansas agriculture producers are often unable to receive timely information about changes in commodity prices, market shifts, weather patterns, and global events. They are precluded from utilizing technology, such as irrigation well monitoring and chemical application devices, that would protect our natural resources.

“Twenty percent of Arkansas’ Gross State Product is from agriculture and forestry. Expanding mobile broadband access to rural areas would enable this vital sector to maximize its economic and competitive potential.”

Also in the pro-merger corner are the Arkansas Farm Bureau and Arkansas Poultry Federation.

However, even with such backing, it isn’t all smooth sailing for the merger. Consumer groups and AT&T competitors have claimed the merger would lead to a near monopoly where consumers would ultimately lose. See here and here.

Recently, Delta Farm Press spoke with merger advocate Robert Coon, of the Impact Management Group, about the potential mega-deal. Among his comments:

On the current situation…

“For broadband, most people are familiar with 3G and 4G is coming onto the scene. In Arkansas, Verizon has announced 4G for the northwest.

“Basically, 4G relies on a spectrum that AT&T is limited in. T-Mobile has built their network across the country and said ‘This is our network; we’re not putting any more money into it.’

“Meanwhile, AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile and has been approved by regulators in Washington, D.C. They said ‘Look, if you allow us to buy T-Mobile, it will provide the spectrum we need to roll out 4G.’

What it would mean for rural Arkansas…

“As an example, Jonesboro (in northeast Arkansas) just got 3G six to eight months ago. But the rural areas of Arkansas don’t even have 3G, yet.

“With 4G, if you’ve got an I-Pad and you’re standing in the middle of a bean field it’ll almost be like you’re hooked up to a DSL with a laptop in your house. 4G would really be a game-changer for Arkansas, for rural America.

AT&T says ‘We want T-Mobile for the spectrum. We can roll out 4G across 97 percent of America. And we’re roll out high-speed broadband. All the people on the other side of the digital divide will have coverage.’

“Frankly, the cable companies aren’t going to roll out fiber into the really rural areas where there isn’t a lot of population. That’s life – I wouldn’t expect any private business to put money where they can’t recoup their costs nor make a profit.”

UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, the Department of Justice sued to block the AT&T/T-Mobile merger saying "AT&T’s elimination of T-Mobile as an independent, low-priced rival would remove a significant competitive force from the market."

More here and here.

TAGS: Outlook
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