Editor's note — Last week's Viewpoint by Chuck Thomas III in favor of a merger between communications giants AT&T and T-Mobile drew a heavy response from readers, not all of whom approved.
In the interests of full debate of a sensitive and important subject affecting thousands of consumers in Memphis and Shelby County, here is a different opinion:
Monopoly can be a terrific game to play with the kids at home. But there are strict rules and guidelines that prevent us from playing the game in the business world — and rightly so. In business, a monopoly means one thing: the rich get richer, while the poor get left behind.
Last spring, the Federal Communications Commission began its ongoing review of AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile. The investigation will analyze the effect this merger could have on market consolidation and overall spectrum management. The Justice Department will focus on whether or not the deal accords with antitrust laws.
But the FCC and the Justice Department must analyze more than the effect this merger could have on the nameless market; they must give serious consideration to the people who could be most affected.
Like in Monopoly, AT&T is trying to buy the best real estate on the block. If the FCC and Justice allow this merger of telecom giants to happen, it will be consumers — particularly lower income and minority wireless users — who won't be able to pass "Go" or collect $200.
Low-income families and communities of color rely heavily on their mobile phones to connect to the Internet — a lifeline increasingly critical in today's world. Higher rates could have devastating consequences.
About 17 percent of people in the U.S. earning less than $30,000 per year use the Internet only through their cell phones, according to a Pew Research Center study. This is also true for 20 percent of those who did not graduate from high school.
The higher prices for wireless service that could result from this merger would add a financial burden to these struggling workers, or force them to cancel their mobile phone plans. This could leave them without the access they need — and one step farther away from a higher wage or a better education.
The merger also disproportionately affects people of color, who rely on their cell phones to access the Internet more than whites. While 10 percent of white people access the Internet only from their phones, 18 percent of blacks and 16 percent of English-speaking Latinos depend on affordable wireless coverage to get online.
It's already extremely difficult to depend on a cell phone for Internet access. Anyone who has tried to fill out a job application or schedule an immigration appointment on a cell phone will tell you it's easier said than done.
With less competition among wireless companies, there will be even less incentive for the telecom giants to provide greater access. Advocates from the Media Action Grassroots Network explain that for everything from job postings to college applications, access to mobile Internet means access to opportunity. To price-gouge those who need it most would be cruel.
There's a reason why mergers must be approved. We hope federal officials carefully consider the effect this deal would have on the most vulnerable U.S. Communities. These communities need a real chance now more than ever. Not another obstacle to success.
While AT&T's market grab must first pass the antitrust law test, it should also stand the test of historic American values — that tell us to put people before profits; lift up our tired, hungry, and poor; and ensure that this country doesn't erode opportunity for those who need it most.
This is too important to be treated like a game.
Malkia Cyril is executive director of the Center for Media Justice.