In 1982, telecommunications in the U.S. changed forever when U.S. District Court Judge Harold Greene ruled in United States vs. AT&T that the industry was a monopoly. Like smashing an ice cube, this single action created seven regional holding companies within which were 22 Bell local operating companies along with AT&T, which retained Bell Laboratories. Judge Greene’s ruling, his first case after taking the bench was, to say the least, a monument in anti-trust litigation, but is also largely responsible for today’s booming telecommunications industry.
In terms of creating competition, it’s been an unbridled success, creating a procession of spin-offs, acquisitions, and mergers that if depicted in an organization chart would cover an office wall. As for the once-diminished AT&T, it is now the world’s 21st largest company with a 2013 revenue of nearly $129 billion, selling fixed line, wireless, broadband, Internet, and digital TV services. Verizon Communications, formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE and which sells fixed-line, wireless, broadband, digital television, and network services, had revenue of more than $120 billion. Collectively, they generated a revenue of $5 billion greater than the GDP of Portugal and a net income of about the same as the GDP of Jordan. Not too shabby.
The other primary benefactors ranked by 2013 revenue are Sprint ($35 billion), T-Mobile U.S. ($21.3 billion), CenturyLink ($18 billion), Frontier Communications ($5.2 billion), Windstream ($4.1 billion), Cincinnati Bell ($1.4 billion), and FairPoint Communications ($1.3 billion). Add them all together and their aggregate revenue is about the same as the GDP of Peru.
We’ll never know how Judge Greene would feel today about what came of his decision, (he died in 2000) but nevertheless many companies and their shareholders have created fortunes since then and more fortunes are certain to be made. However, the number of players in the industry is shrinking as technologies converge (note AT&T’s $48 billion purchase of DirecTV), and the implications of this are more than a bit disturbing.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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