"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘FCC’

FCC report: Google Engineer Told Officials Street View Cars Collected Private Data Without Permission

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Oldspeak:The report showed an engineer, identified in the report as “Engineer Doe,” appeared to conceive of the Wi-Fi collection software to collect sensitive information that he thought might be useful to the firm for other services.” I wonder what “other services” involve collecting millions of people’s email addresses, email passwords, text messages, from residential and business network, without permission or knowledge of people? What does Google need people’s private information and communications for? And if they needed it, wouldn’t it have been nice to ask, not just steal it, and do god knows what with it?  Google is a key intelligence asset. It has supplied the core search technology for Intellipedia, a highly-secured online CIA system and has shared a close relationship with both the CIA, NSA, and government national security officials. So think of Google as an intelligence gathering platform, where every search is recorded for analysis by the surveillance state. Think about limiting your use of Google and using alternative search engines that don’t collect your private information. I use http://duckduckgo.com/. Also think about the Tor Network, to increase your privacy online and avoid network surveillance of your movements.

Related Stories:

The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets

Google’s Wi-Spying And Intelligence Ties To CIA, NSA Prompt Call For Congressional Hearing

Tor Network Cloaks Your Browsing From Prying Eyes

FTC brings in prosecutor to dig deeper into Google antitrust

Google announces privacy changes across its products

FCC gives light penalty for Street Views privacy flap

By Cecilia Kang @ The Washington Post:

A Google engineer knowingly created software that would collect sensitive personal information about people without their knowledge, according to an un-redacted version of a federal investigative report.

In a full version of a Federal Communications Commission report, an engineer shared e-mails with other Google officials indicating the company could collect “payload data,” including e-mail addresses and text messages through a program to collect location-based software from residential and business Wi-Fi networks. The company released the full contents of the report, which was heavily redacted by the FCC, except for the names of its employees.

(READ: A timeline of developments related to Google and privacy)

The report, supplied by Google, concluded that the company’s actions do not violate FCC or federal eavesdropping rules. The agency recently fined the company $25,000, however, for being uncooperative in a two-years-long investigation. A separate investigation by the FTC resulted in no fines and was closed in 2010.

With both investigations closed, Google released the full report by the FCC upon the request of reporters. The report showed an engineer, identified in the report as “Engineer Doe,” appeared to conceive of the Wi-Fi collection software to collect sensitive information that he thought might be useful to the firm for other services.

“We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals,” a Google spokeswomen said in an e-mailed statement. “While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC’s conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us”.

And inconsistent with public remarks, the report showed knowledge within the company that Google officials knowingly collected the payload data with its crews of Street View cars roaming the world for its mapping and location-based services.

(READ: FCC points to rogue Google engineer)

“On at least two occasions Engineer Doe specifically informed colleagues that Street View cars were collecting payload data,” the FCC report said.

So besides e-mail addresses, what could Google derive from its data collection?

In the report, the FCC cited an analysis by French regulators over a sample of Google’s data collection: 72 e-mail passwords, 774 distinct e-mail addresses and, for example, “an exchange of e-mails between a married woman and man, both seeking an extra-marital relationship with first names, e-mail addresses and physical addresses.”

Federal Regulators Likely To Let Google Buy Motorola Mobility For “Superpower” Status

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2011 at 11:46 am

Oldspeak: We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.” Corporate media consolidation and control of your means of communications continues unabated, while the illusion of choice is perpetuated.”

By Susan Decker and Ian King @ Bloomberg:

Google Inc. (GOOG) is relying on its planned $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. to forestall patent litigation and force settlements with Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) over smartphone technology.

Google cited patent disputes as key to its agreement to buy Motorola Mobility, announced yesterday. Apple, maker of the iPhone, and Microsoft, developer of Windows Phone software, have targeted phones that run on Google’s best-selling Android system, including handsets built by Motorola Mobility, Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp. (2498), in lawsuits worldwide.

Lacking its own trove of patents to vie with Apple, Microsoft and other companies, Google and its hardware partners were targeted by suits aimed at slowing the adoption of Android smartphones. Adding the 17,000 patents of Motorola Mobility, which has been inventing mobile-phone technology since the industry began, may help Google stanch the onslaught.

“The analogy to a nuclear arms race and mutually assured destruction is compelling,” said Ron Laurie, managing director of Inflexion Point Strategy LLC, which counsels companies on purchasing intellectual property. Google and its rivals “look pretty evenly matched at the moment. Google may have become a patent superpower.”

The goal of Google’s new patent clout is also to act as protection for the handset makers that have been bearing the brunt of the litigation, the company said yesterday.

Patent Weaponry

Competition for dominance in the smartphone market has heated up since Google introduced Android in 2008. Patents, which grant exclusive rights to use a specific invention, have become a way to fight for market share and inhibit rivals from introducing new features.

Apple stepped up the patent feud by suing Android manufacturers, claiming Google-powered devices copy the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft has sued Motorola Mobility and Barnes & Noble Inc., whose Nook reader runs Android software.

Apple and Microsoft have focused on the devices that run on Android, while Oracle Corp. (ORCL), which has sued Mountain View, California-based Google directly, contends Android was developed using its Java programming language. Oracle is seeking billions of dollars in damages for patent- and copyright-infringement, and Google’s response has been limited to challenging the validity of Oracle’s patents.

Heightening the dispute, a group led by Apple and Microsoft won an auction of patents owned by Nortel Networks Corp. in June after bidding up the price to $4.5 billion, beating out Google in the largest-ever patent auction.

Google Shops Around

Before agreeing to buy Motorola Mobility, Google had few patents on mobile-phone technology. The company’s research had focused largely on its main search-engine business.

Google, seeking to tilt the balance, has actively sought patents that it said could be used as a deterrent to litigation, culminating in the purchase of Motorola Mobility. Google bought more than 1,000 patents in July from International Business Machines Corp.

“Yesterday you could sue Google and you weren’t taking any risks because they didn’t have any patents,” said Pierre Ferragu, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein inLondon. “Today it’s the same as suing Motorola.”

The purchase of Motorola Mobility lessens the likelihood of future bidding wars, Ferragu said.

“You have very, very few transactions that would make sense today,” he said. “You possibly have some smaller transactions as Google continues to shop around for quality.”

‘Level Playing Ground’

Motorola Mobility traces its roots to the 1928 founding of Galvin Manufacturing Corp. in Chicago. The company, renamed Motorola, was a pioneer of early televisions and two-way radio in World War II. It helped lay the foundation for the mobile- phone industry, demonstrating its first handset in 1973.

“Motorola was a pioneer in this business,” said Will Strauss, an analyst at Tempe, Arizona-based Forward Concepts Co. “They certainly have a lot of intellectual property. It will certainly level the playing ground quite a bit. It’s going to give them an awful lot to defend Android with.”

The purchase would directly embroil Google in litigation, where its partners have until now been the main targets. Motorola Mobility has its own pending lawsuits against Apple and Microsoft. A case Microsoft brought against Motorola Mobility is due to begin trial Aug. 22 at the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, and a victory may mean a ban on imports of Motorola phones. Motorola Mobility retaliated with a bid to ban U.S. imports of Microsoft’s Xbox video-game systems, with a trial scheduled for October.

Protecting the Ecosystem

Motorola Mobility’s case against Cupertino, California- based Apple also was scheduled to begin Aug. 22, though it’s been postponed. Apple’s case against Motorola begins in September at the ITC. Samsung and HTC also have each filed separate suits against Apple.

“We believe we’ll be in a very good position to protect the Android ecosystem for all of the partners,” Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page said in a conference call with analysts yesterday. Motorola will manage the litigation until the acquisition is completed, expected by the end of this year or early next year, he said.

Kevin Kutz, a spokesman for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, declined to comment on what Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility might mean for the litigation. Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, also declined to comment.

Nokia Agreement

Apple has been winning so far, with an ITC judge’s finding that, if upheld, could lead to a ban on imports of HTC phones into the U.S. and a court order that prevents Samsung from introducing its new Galaxy Tablet in most of the European Union. As yet, nothing has stopped sales of Motorola’s phones or Xoom tablet.

Google may be hoping that an agreement can be reached with Apple that mirrors one the computer maker struck with another phone pioneer, Nokia Oyj (NOK1V), said Bernstein’s Ferragu.

The Finnish phone maker in June said it won an almost two- year patent dispute with Apple in a settlement that provided it with a one-time payment plus royalties.

“From that, you could infer that in the end it’s going to be Apple paying Motorola, paying Google,” Ferragu said.

While there will continue to be patent purchases in the mobile-phone market, litigation may slow if Google is successful in its strategy of using patents as leverage to strike settlements and keep further lawsuits at bay.

“It may not be the end, but you can see it from here,” said Inflexion Point Strategy’s Laurie. Google “was such an obvious target, and now they’re not,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Susan Decker in Washington atsdecker1@bloomberg.net; Ian King in San Francisco at ianking@bloomberg.net

What Does Proposed AT&T And T-Mobile Merger Mean?

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Oldspeak:“Corporate consolidation yields reduced choice, anti-democratic monopolistic practices, higher rates, worker elimination/job loss & price gouging. In an industry “regulated” by an agency (FCC)  it has captured, one has to wonder how closely this proposed deal will be scrutinized. If the recent ComcastNBC merger provides any indication, the answer appears to be not very closely atal. :-|”

By Eric K. Arnold @ The Media Consortium:

Welcome to the Wavelength, your bi-weekly field guide to the world of media policy. Over the next four months, we’ll be compiling great content, connecting the dots, building context, and reporting how media policy impacts the lives of everyday people. From the ongoing battle over Net Neutrality to the wild world of Internet regulation, from partisan crusades to media accountability, the Wavelength is here to keep you in the know.

This week, we’re focusing on major mergers, holding telecom giants accountable, and the revolving door at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

So, without further ado, let’s take a spin through the media zone.

AT&T to Absorb T-Mobile?

On Sunday, AT&T announced it had reached an agreement with T-Mobile to buy the mobile phone service provider for $39 billion. As reported in the New York Times,  the deal would “create the largest wireless carrier in the nation and promised to reshape the industry.”

The immediate upshot is that the number of nationwide wireless carriers would drop from four to three, with Sprint Nextel running a distant third behind AT&T/T-Mobile and Verizon. Another impact could be higher rates for current T-Mobile customers. Advocates of the deal suggest it could improve AT&T’s oft-criticized service, resulting in fewer dropped calls. However, critics note that the roughly $3 billion in projected annual cost savings will likely come at the expense of workers at the hundreds of retail outlets expected to close, if the deal goes through.

Both the Justice Department and the FCC have to sign off on the merger before it can be approved, a process that could take up to a year.

House adds insult to NPR’s injury

On St. Patrick’s Day, the Republican-controlled House voted 228-192 to end federal funding for NPR. The move came on the heels of a secretly recorded video from conservative activist James O’Keefe that purportedly showed NPR fundraiser Ronald Schiller expressing support for Islamic fundamentalism and disavowing the Tea Party as “racist” — leading Schiller and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) to resign. The video was later revealed to be excerpted and heavily edited from a longer video which places Schiller’s remarks in context.

At TAPPED, Lindsay Beyerstein watched the entire two hour video, and notes that:

O’Keefe’s provocateurs didn’t get what they were looking for. They were ostensibly offering $5 million to NPR. Their goal is clearly to get Schiller and his colleague Betsy Liley to agree to slant coverage for cash. Again and again, they refuse, saying that NPR just wants to report the facts and be a nonpartisan voice of reason.

As reported in the Washington Times, the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass the bill, making NPR’s federal funding safe—for now. However, the timing of the vote suggests that House Republicans are essentially endorsing O’Keefe’s questionable tactics, showing that their dislike of the so-called liberal media is of greater concern.

Telecoms add ramming to their list of illegal practices

A recent AlterNet story by David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick details sneaky, unethical, and possibly illegal telecom tactics, the most recent of which is “ramming.”

“Ramming” happens “when a phone company‘s customer is put on a service plan or package s/he did not need or want or cannot even use.” According to the article, “An estimated 80 percent of phone company customers have been overcharged or are on plans they did not need or even order. These and other scams can cost residential customers $20 or more a month extra and small business customers up to thousands of dollars a month.”

These practices are insidious because modern telephone bills are so cryptic that it’s not easy for even the most astute customer to figure out they’ve been duped.

Powell’s next move

Last Tuesday, former FCC chair Michael Powell announced that he has taken over as president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Leading media advocacy organization Free Press snarkily congratulated Powell via a statement from Managing Director Craig Aaron:

If you wonder why common sense, public interest policies never see the light of day in Washington, look no further than the furiously spinning revolving door between industry and the FCC.

Former Chairman Michael Powell is the natural choice to lead the nation’s most powerful cable lobby, having looked out for the interests of companies like Comcast and Time Warner during his tenure at the Commission and having already served as a figurehead for the industry front group Broadband for America.

AT&T imposes monthly usage caps

Finally, we’ve got more bad news for those unlucky enough to have AT&T as their Internet and cable service provider. As Truthout’s Nadia Prupis recently reported, AT&T customers who use the company’s U-Verse cable TV service and DSL hi-speed Internet services in the United States can expect a bump in their monthly bills if they exceed a new usage cap – 50GB for DSL customers and 250 GB for U-Verse users. Those who exceed the storage fee will be charged $10 extra for every 50GB over the limit.

Surprisingly, the telecom behemoth continues to insist their price-gouging moves are in the consumer’s best interests. According to an AT&T press release: “Our new plan addresses another concern: customers strongly believe that only those who use the most bandwidth should pay more than those who don’t use as much.”

Personally, I don’t spend too much time thinking about how much bandwidth other people are using, as long as I’m getting the download speeds I’m paying for.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint and repost. To read more of The Wavelength, click here. For the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

AT&T To Buy T-Mobile: Great For Them, Bad For You

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Oldspeak:“Corporate consolidation continues its march on a path of destruction of choice and flouting of anti-trust laws. “Less competition always results in higher prices” –Sascha Segan. Coming soon, from AT&T/T-Mobile, higher prices, poorer service…. I might have to switch to CREDO MOBILE.  B & L soon come:”

By Sascha Segan @ PC Magazine:

AT&T just announced it will buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion. If the transaction gets approved by the government and closes in a year as planned, it will create the nation’s largest wireless carrier by far.

While this is great news for both companies, it’s an awful idea for consumers – and I desperately hope the US antitrust authorities rake this merger over the coals.

An AT&T/T-Mobile merger at least makes more sense than the silly T-Mobile/Sprint idea which was being bandied about. Both carriers use the same technologies: GSM, HSPA+ and LTE. While they’re on different frequency bands, radios which use all of the relevant bands are becoming easier to build.

The merger neatly solves T-Mobile’s long-term problem of not having enough spectrum for LTE, the 4G technology which will soon be a global standard. It gives T-Mobile’s struggling parent, Deutsche Telekom, a gigantic cash infusion. And it lets AT&T once again position itself as the number-one carrier against Verizon Wireless, which leapfrogged AT&T technologically this year with Verizon’s 4G LTE launch.

AT&T is ahead of T-Mobile on building LTE. T-Mobile is far ahead of AT&T on building HSPA+, a intermediate 4G technology that fits right between the carriers’ existing 3G networks and LTE. Together, they could have a smooth and powerful nationwide network.

AT&T’s press release for the merger backs this up. The combined carrier will be able to build out much more LTE Than AT&T could alone, by combining AT&T’s 700 Mhz spectrum with T-Mobile’s AWS spectrum.

For stockholders, this all sounds great. With reduced competition and the efficiencies of a combined network, the new company will probably be quite profitable.

For phone owners, tech lovers, and American consumers, this is a total disaster.

Rates Will Rise, Customer Service Will Drop

Let’s start with a basic fact: less competition always results in higher prices than you would have had otherwise. T-Mobile has always been a value leader, offering low prices and some innovative plans, such as its Even More Plus plans which gave monthly discounts in exchange for paying the full up-front price for phones. These plans will go away and the combined carrier will normalize at AT&T’s higher rates.

In AT&T’s press release for the merger, the company doesn’t bother to rebut this idea. Rather, the carrier says there’s already plenty of competition and implies that prices are so low that Americans shouldn’t be too concerned. AT&T also shows a disingenuous chart explaining that prices dropped when carriers merged over the past ten years. Of course, it doesn’t show what would have happened to prices if those carriers hadn’t merged.

This merger also means less phone choice for US consumers. Unlike in most other countries, the American phone market is dominated by the carriers; the carriers have to approve and sell most phones. The process of making it through approval labs, and the space on carrier store shelves, limit the number of phones each carrier can handle at once. I’m pretty sure that the number of phones carried by AT&T/T-Mobile will be less than the current number carried by the two carriers separately, because they will want to create efficiencies and unify their product lines.

This doesn’t mean T-Mobile’s phones will go away – I see the merged carrier cherry picking an iPhone here, a MyTouch 4G there. But it means that there will be fewer choices overall for American consumers, and fewer chances for new manufacturers or ideas to appear in the marketplace.

From a customer service perspective, make no mistake, AT&T will subsume T-Mobile. The merged carrier will not have T-Mobile’s friendliness, nimbleness, or level of customer service. Just like in the horrifying Sprint-Nextel mess or during the long, slow, grinding AT&T/Cingular merger, the merged carrier will sink to the minimum customer service level of its parts.

I’ve sung this song before. I don’t see how the biggest carriers getting bigger improves anything for consumers. We’ve seen many times around the world how duopolies or cozy tri-opolies can retard innovation and drag up prices (hello, Canadians!) and the US government should do everything in its power to prevent the US wireless market from becoming wholly owned by AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Short of killing this merger entirely, I’m not sure what the government could do to maintain competition here. AT&T and T-Mobile are the only major GSM carriers; everybody else is CDMA. That means if the government forced the merged carrier to divest some markets to be picked up by someone else, the buyer of the divested markets won’t be able to integrate them easily into its existing network.

If this merger goes through, it only becomes more urgent for MetroPCS, Cricket and US Cellular to band together into a new, single low-cost force in the wireless market. Together, the three carriers would have around 20-21 million users. They all use the same CDMA technology, and their spectrum holdings largely don’t overlap. A new nationwide value leader could help reduce the negative effects of this merger for US consumers.

AT&T-T-Mobile USA deal may face regulatory hurdles

Oldspeak:”But it might not be a done deal just yet, maybe regulators will actually regulate this industry. ‘The biggest issue for the FCC and for the Department of Justice, which also needs to approve this merger, is whether a merger between these companies would concentrate too much power in the hands of a single company, which could affect pricing and services for consumers.’ –Marguerite Reardon’ Heres hoping the FCC and DOJ don’t roll over on this one too.”

By Marguerite Reardon @ CNET:

From a network and technology perspective, the $39 billion marriage between AT&T and T-Mobile USA is a no-brainer, but the companies may have to do some smooth talking to get the deal approved by regulators.

AT&T and T-Mobile USA, which is owned by German phone company Deutsche Telekom, each use the GSM technology and each company plans to deploy the 4G technology known as LTE in the future. AT&T plans to launch its LTE network this summer, and T-Mobile has said in the past that LTE is on its roadmap.

Currently, each company has been upgrading its network to the latest version of 3G wireless technology called HSPA+. (T-Mobile stirred up controversy last summer when it began marketing the HSPA+ network as 4G. AT&T, which initially criticized T-Mobile for this, began calling its own HSPA+ network 4G earlier this year.)

The technology synergies between T-Mobile and AT&T are stark contrast to how T-Mobile lined up with Sprint Nextel, which had been rumored to be eying T-Mobile for more than two years. Sprint uses a different network technology called CDMA, which is the same technology that Verizon Wireless uses. What’s more Sprint is using WiMax for its next generation wireless network.

While regulators would have been much more eager to see No. 3 Sprint Nextel merge with No. 4 T-Mobile so that they could take on No. 1 Verizon Wireless and No. 2 AT&T, the reality is that such a scenario would have been an integration nightmare for Sprint. Sprint is still struggling to make sense of its 2005 acquisition of Nextel, which also used a completely different technology.

“There’s no question that AT&T and T-Mobile are a very good fit from a technology standpoint,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. “A Sprint-T-Mobile deal would have given these companies scale, but it made sense from an integration standpoint.”

But even though the deal makes sense from a technology standpoint, it won’t necessarily be smooth sailing. For one, regulators are likely to scrutinize this deal closely. And secondly, even though AT&T and T-Mobile use the same technology, they use different wireless spectrum bands to deliver their services. This means that AT&T will have to move T-Mobile’s customers to different spectrum bands in order to integrate the networks.

Regulatory scrutiny
First let’s look at the regulatory picture. The biggest issue for the FCC and for the Department of Justice, which also needs to approve this merger, is whether a merger between these companies would concentrate too much power in the hands of a single company, which could affect pricing and services for consumers. T-Mobile has always been a price leader. It’s safe to say that AT&T will likely not adopt T-Mobile pricing, which means that consumers will be losing a more affordable player in the wireless market.

And the reason is simple. It won’t need to. AT&T and Verizon Wireless already control more than 40 percent of the existing wireless market. And T-Mobile, the smallest of the major wireless operators, would concentrate AT&T’s market power further. A combined AT&T and T-Mobile would have nearly 130 million subscribers, which is a third more than Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 nationwide player in the country. The new AT&T-T-Mobile would also have twice as many customers as No. 3. Sprint Nextel.

The FCC has already expressed concern over the competitive landscape in wireless. In May the FCC warned that the industry is getting too concentrated. In its report, the agency said that since 2003, market concentration in wireless has increased 32 percent. The report indicates that 60 percent of the nation’s subscribers and revenue come from the country’s two largest wireless providers: AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The FCC noted that these companies are continuing to gain customers as other national operators, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, have been losing subscribers.

So far the FCC hasn’t issued a statement regarding the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger. But insiders at the agency have said previously that they would be more concerned with an acquisition between AT&T and Verizon Wireless and either Sprint Nextel or T-Mobile USA than a merger involving Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have scoffed at the FCC’s assertion that the wireless industry is not competitive. And the companies have repeatedly pointed to the fact that there are often four to five players in almost every major market in the U.S. Smaller players such as MetroPCS and Leap Wireless have aggressively moved into new markets. And U.S. Cellular, a regional wireless carrier, has gotten high marks in terms of customer satisfaction in many national surveys.

But the fact remains that AT&T and Verizon Wireless have far more customers than any of these smaller players. Indeed, Golvin estimates that a combined AT&T and T-Mobile would mean that three out of four wireless subscribers in the U.S. would be a customer of either AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

What’s more, combining AT&T and T-Mobile, means that there would be only one national wireless carrier using the GSM technology. Verizon and Sprint Nextel use CDMA, as mentioned above. This would give consumers, who want to use their phones overseas in places such as Europe, only one choice in national U.S. carrier.

At least one congressional leader is already pushing the FCC and Department of Justice to take a hard look at this deal.

“With every passing day, wireless services are becoming more and more important to the way we communicate,” John D. Rockefeller IV (D-West Virginia), chairman of the Senate’s Commerce Science and Transportation committee, said in a statement. “So it is absolutely essential that both the Department of Justice and the FCC leave no stone unturned in determining what the impact of this combination is on the American people.”

While it is possible that the FCC and/or the Justice Department could simply stop the merger from happening, it’s unlikely they’d do that, Golvin said. Instead, it’s more likely that these agencies would put conditions on the merger and require AT&T to divest some of its wireless spectrum assets, he added.

“I don’t believe this will have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ outcome,” Golvin said. “I think what the regulators do will be more about the extent of AT&T’s divestiture.”

In fact, the FCC took this approach when it approved Verizon’s $28.1 billion merger of regional carrier Alltel Wireless, which closed in January 2009. Instead of analyzing this merger on a national basis, the FCC analyzed each individual market where Verizon and Alltel operated. And in markets where there was too much concentration, the FCC required that the Verizon sell those wireless assets. All told, Verizon agreed to sell operations in 105 markets where Alltel also operated.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke to the Wall Street Journal on Sunday and said that he is confident that the company will get regulatory approval. He said that the merger will help “conserve spectrum at a time when that resource is in tight supply.”

He also said that the wireless market is already very competitive.

“This is probably the most fiercely competitive wireless market in the world,” he was quoted as saying. “The majority of Americans have the option of five different wireless carriers.”

Spectrum issues
Regulatory issues may be only one hurdle the companies face as they look at integrating the two wireless networks. While it’s true that T-Mobile and AT&T each use GSM technology, the carriers also use different bands of spectrum to deliver their services. Specifically, T-Mobile uses the spectrum it bought in the AWS spectrum auction in 2006 to build its 3G wireless network.

AT&T also acquired spectrum in that auction. And it is using this AWS spectrum to build its LTE network. AT&T uses its 850MHz and 1900MHz spectrum to deliver its 3G service. Part of the reason that AT&T wanted T-Mobile in the first place was to get more of the AWS spectrum for its LTE network.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile has no additional spectrum to deploy LTE, since it’s been using the AWS spectrum for its 3G service. What this means is that once AT&T and T-Mobile merge, AT&T will have to move all of T-Mobile’s existing 3G customers (which includes the supposed 4G HSPA+ customers) to AT&T’s 850MHz and 1900MHz spectrum. This means T-Mobile customers will need new handsets, since the existing T-Mobile 3G HSPA and 4G HSPA+ handsets will no longer work on the AWS spectrum.

The migration of additional T-Mobile customers to AT&T’s already congested 3G network could also be painful for existing AT&T customers. But Golvin believes that in the long run, AT&T will actually benefit from the merger with T-Mobile because it will allow AT&T to use the newly upgraded backhaul systems that T-Mobile has put in place to link its radio network to the hard-wired Internet and telephone backbone.

“For some period of time, customers from either network may find that the quality is not what they would like,” Golvin said. “But AT&T won’t be able to just turn off the T-Mobile network. It will take time and it will be done in stages. I think what might be more painful for some T-Mobile customers is that they were T-Mobile customers because they didn’t want to be AT&T customers.”

The deal comes just days before the wireless industry meets in Orlando, Fla., for the CTIA’s spring trade show and conference. On Tuesday morning, CEOs from all four major U.S. wireless carriers–AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile–will take the stage for a roundtable discussion. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is also expected to give a speech Tuesday morning from CTIA. It’s unclear how much if anything the players involved in the merger will say at CTIA. But CNET will be there, so stay tuned.