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Duopoly Money

Phil Harvey

4:30 PM -- As our attention shifts to Mobile World Congress 2012 for the next few days, I wonder: How big and how dominant, really, are AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless in the U.S.? And why can't their competitors catch up?

The answer to the first question is simple if you follow the money. A report this month from Moody's Investors Service on the U.S. wireless industry put wireless carrier spending in context:

AT&T and Verizon have invested a combined $160 billion over the past 10 years in wireless network assets, including property, plant and equipment as well as spectrum licenses -- more than double what Sprint and T-Mobile have spent. ... Over the past five years the rate of investment accelerated, as AT&T and Verizon invested over four times as much as Sprint and T-Mobile. We expect AT&T and Verizon to continue to invest at least twice as much in their wireless networks as Sprint and T-Mobile for the next five years. We measure historical investment a number of ways, any of which confirm our conclusion.

Expect that disparity to endure as now AT&T and Verizon have more subscribers, sell more smartphones, and continue to get more revenue per subscriber, so they end up with more to invest. The answer to the second question I posed is not as obvious. But to reveal that answer over time we can pay more attention to the competitive efforts going on out there. Also, as consumers, we should be holding AT&T and Verizon to the highest possible standard. They have the biggest networks. They have the most money. They should be the best carriers in all measureable ways.

But are they?

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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12/5/2012 | 5:41:26 PM
re: Duopoly Money

Given their massive investment in wireless networks, AT&T and Verizon are trying to provide more to their consumers, or reach more consumers. But I think their market power works against consumers when it comes to offering customer service or more customer-friendly pricing and packaging. The less choice consumers have, well, the less choice consmers have. We will be at the mercy of what these two behemoths want to provide.

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