As Regulators Weigh AT&T Bid, a Look at Wireless Markets Abroad

While cellphone customers in the United States tend to pay more every month than consumers in other developed countries, they get more for their money in terms of voice and data use. For example, Americans pay an average of 4 cents for a minute of talk time, while Canadians and the British pay more than twice that, according to recent data from Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. In Japan, where the top three wireless carriers control 97 percent of the market, locals pay 22 cents a minute.

The question for regulators in Washington is how AT&T’s $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile might change that. Analysts and industry experts worry that the deal could hurt consumers, in particular by eliminating T-Mobile’s low-cost phone plans. Some are urging regulators to block the acquisition, which would leave two major companies, AT&T and Verizon, with nearly 80 percent of the wireless market, followed by the much smaller Sprint. AT&T has said the merger will benefit consumers, in part by improving network quality and reach. As they consider the deal, regulators may look abroad to see how competition affects wireless markets. With only three major network operators, the market in the United States would function similarly to some European markets, like France, which also has three operators, said J. Scott Marcus, the former chief technology officer at the telecommunications company GTE and former Internet policy adviser at the Federal Communications Commission. Of course, using other countries as a guide to how consolidation may play out is tricky, because every market is shaped by local cultural and business factors.


As Regulators Weigh AT&T Bid, a Look at Wireless Markets Abroad