Look, Ma Bell, No Competition

     The announcement that AT&T plans to buy out BellSouth took the March 5 CBS Evening News back to January 1984 when the Ma Bell monopoly was busted and Wendys commercials featured elderly actress Clara Peller asking wheres the beef?

     Twenty-two years, four major wireless phone providers, and numerous cable and broadband voice-over-Internet companies later, the Tiffany network feared another Bell monopoly, asking, wheres the competition?

     Dial A for acquisition. AT&T says its buying rival BellSouth for $67 billion. The return of Ma Bell is where we start tonight, CBS anchor Russ Mitchell teased viewers during the shows opening credits.

     Moments later Mitchell introduced the story by correspondent Bianca Solorzano, saying that the blockbuster deal nearly completes the reversal of a blockbuster breakup more than 20 years ago, an agreement that could eventually ring in big changes for consumers.

     Solorzano reported that the merger could force more mergers, like between Verizon and Qwest, if theyre to have any chance to stay in the phone game. In the long run, Solorzano concluded, you can just forget about your telephone bill going down anytime soon.

     Yet over at NBC Nightly News, CNBCs David Farber saw a different outcome from the merger, as cable companies offering voice-over-Internet phone service continue to gain in popularity relative to traditional phone companies like AT&T or BellSouth.

     The hope on the part of AT&T, at least, is that, Well, weve almost recreated Ma Bell at this point. But by doing so, weve brought enough power to bear that we can compete with the cable company, Farber told weekend host John Seigenthaler. And, therefore, maybe youll start to see prices come down a little bit, the CNBC correspondent added.

     Meanwhile, a telecommunications expert on the March 5 World News Tonight told reporter Bob Jamieson that fears of a monopoly are overblown. I don't think you should focus on size. But in fact were not going to see a reduction of competitors in any market, said Tom Watts of S.G. Cowan and Company.