March 8, 2006
Someone Call Arnold!
It's the Cyborg AT&T-100!
One of the
coolest scenes in Terminator 2 is when the nice Terminator
(Arnold) makes the evil Terminator (Robert Patrick, aka the T-1000)
disintegrate into thousands of little pieces by dousing him with liquid
nitrogen. But we soon see that it makes no difference, because this is a
very advanced cyborg, and the thousands of little pieces start crawling
along the pavement back toward each other, until they reform and the
T-1000 is stalking Arnold once again.
smashing the T-1000 to pieces couldn’t keep it from reforming and once
again becoming a powerful force.
of the AT&T phone monopoly was one of the heralded anti-trust events of
the 1980s. A company that powerful and dominant in the market would
surely become a scourge to consumers, who would have no competitive
choices to help keep prices under control.
Sam said, we’re pouring liquid nitrogen all over you! To pieces you go –
nevermore to terrorize innocent phone customers.
seemed like such a good plan at the time. AT&T nodded, tucked its tail
between its legs and said, “You’re right. We will let you smash us to
pieces because for us to be so big and powerful is no good for anyone.
Well, except for us, but we guess that’s not what you had in mind.”
cute little Baby Bells handled the local service, and when new choices
like Sprint and MCI showed up on the long distance market, Cliff
Robertson was able to convince enough people that AT&T was “the right
choice” that everything seemed fine for everyone.
know, that T-1000 was from the future, and maybe that’s why he didn’t
get overly nonplussed when Arnold smashed him to pieces. He knew that in
the future, it is really easy to reconstitute yourself after having been
smashed to pieces.
that we are living in the future – The Year Two Thousand Six! (where are
the commuter flights to Jupiter that we were promised in 1979?) – we see
that this also applies to cyborg businesses. AT&T didn’t really go away
quietly at all. It slowly reconstituted itself.
when AT&T merged with SBC, it was the biggest step yet in the
reconstitution of the cyborg – sort of like the part where all the
little droplets of cyborg goo finally coalesce into one piece. This
week, we learned that AT&T has acquired Bell South. Suddenly, it’s
starting to look like the T-1000 again. Of the seven regional phone
companies that were separated from AT&T in the original court-ordered
breakup, four are now back in the fold.
bigger, more cyborgic AT&T has $120 billion in annual revenues – making
it the largest communication company in America by the decisive margin.
And “consumer advocate” types are scared. Gene Kimmelman, public policy
director of Consumers Union, calls the deal “devastating” for consumers.
Of course, he may have said that about one or two other things
Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts is using interesting
metaphors to express his horror. "Twenty years after the government
broke up Ma Bell, this deal represents a mother-and-child reunion,"
At least he
doesn’t give you false hope on a strange and mournful day.
But it is
no longer the 1980s, and today’s AT&T looks to dominate markets like
high-speed internet, video and wireless phones. AT&T Chairman Edward
Whitacre is so excited about the deal that he is putting off his planned
2006 retirement until 2008.
of all this? Perhaps it’s going too far to say that business is like a
cyborg from the future who appears naked in a parking garage in Los
Angeles in 1984. But the next time the government decides a business has
gotten too big and needs to be taken down a notch (see: Microsoft,
Wal-Mart), it might need to prepare itself for the possibility that the
market is a more powerful force than even government.
the T-1000 eventually ended up in a burning vat of lava, and even a
merger with Bell South couldn’t save him. Then again, he did show up a
few years later on the X-Files – working for the Justice Department, no
forces win again. They always do.
© 2006 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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