How AT&T, BellSouth merger will impact customers

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The concessions AT&T Inc. made to win regulatory approval of its mammoth merger with BellSouth Corp. has many implications for consumers.

With the recent approval of the plan by the Federal Communications Commission, here's what consumers can expect in the combined company's service areas in 22 states:

· DSL to new customers for $10 a month for 30 months. This looks like a good deal for high-speed Internet, as the Digital Subscriber Line is even cheaper than the cheapest plan AT&T now has, at $15 a month.

It's even better in BellSouth's territory, where the company has kept prices higher than other phone companies — BellSouth's cheapest plan is now $25 a month.

However, to be eligible, you must never have had AT&T or BellSouth DSL, and you need local phone service.

· A pledge to offer broadband wherever the new AT&T is the local phone company. This sounds good, but AT&T is allowed to use satellite broadband, which is comparatively slow and expensive, to cover the last 15 percent of homes.

This means rural homes that are too far from phone-switching stations may still not get DSL.

· DSL service without local phone service. This is something consumer advocates have fought for because many broadband users make phone calls over that connection and feel no need for a traditional landline.

But so-called "naked" DSL is something that appeals mostly to the technically sophisticated, and they're unlikely to be thrilled by the relatively slow plan that AT&T has offered to sell, with a download speed of 768 kilobits per second.

At $20 a month or less, it'll cost a bit more than the cheapest DSL plans but you can drop charges for phone services.

· A pledge to sell wireless broadband licenses held by BellSouth. This is intended to open up competition in providing broadband to the home, a market that now has only two main competitors in each area: the phone company and the cable company.

BellSouth already uses this spectrum to provide broadband service in parts of 15 cities in eight states.

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