[Editor's Note: The city's Planning & Zoning Commission will at its Jan. 10 meeting. . Read more about mobile phone issues in Albany here, and click the "Keep me posted" button below for alerts when we post about this topic.]
An Albany Patch article on Nov. 28, 2011, pointed out that AT&T has . Some reader comments implied that the reason for the lack of sites is Albany’s zoning code and the way it regulates placement of cellular antennas.
In fact, the lack of AT&T sites in Albany has nothing to do with Albany’s zoning code. The reason AT&T has —and in many other places in the U.S.—is a poor business decision in 2005 to sell a large portion of what would have been AT&T’s network to T-Mobile.
Here’s the history:
What is now AT&T is the result of the former Cingular Wireless's purchase of AT&T Wireless in 2005. At the time of that purchase, Cingular had two sites in Albany: at Town Centre shopping center on San Pablo Ave. and at St. Mary's High School on the southeast side of town. When Cingular bought AT&T, it changed the name of the new combined business to AT&T and sold the former Cingular GSM (global mobile system) network, including the two Albany sites, to T-Mobile for $2.5 billion.
The new AT&T dissolved a pre-existing joint venture between Cingular and T-Mobile in which those two carriers shared sites and divested itself of the Cingular network, which went to T-Mobile. These were among the conditions on which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the Cingular-AT&T merger. The FCC’s stated goal was to preserve competitiveness in the wireless industry and prevent any single carrier from dominating the market.
Subsequently, the new AT&T contracted to provide iPhone wireless service, knowing full well that, without the Cingular network, it did not have the capability to support the demand the iPhone would generate.
So, yes, AT&T coverage in Albany is poor and AT&T has no sites in Albany. Why? Because AT&T gave away to T-Mobile the two sites it would have had in Albany.
Ironically, AT&T has since been trying to buy T-Mobile, presumably in part to get back at least some of the network it sold to T-Mobile at the time of the AT&T-Cingular merger. However, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit in 2011 to block this merger, and, in November, AT&T withdrew its FCC application to acquire T-Mobile.
The story of Cingular, AT&T and T-Mobile, and the musical-chairs ownership of cell sites, raises the question of to what extent regulations to preserve an ostensibly "competitive" cell phone industry are actually in the best interests of consumers.
Arguably, a single unified nationwide cell network, similar to our single nationwide landline infrastructure, would provide better service.
With a single network using one technology, instead of the competing networks and sometimes incompatible technologies of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS and Sprint/Nextel (five companies now, down from what used to be seven major wireless carriers), all customers would get the same access to the physical infrastructure that transmits and receives wireless data.
As this history makes clear, our local regulations are not the reason for AT&T’s lack of cell sites in Albany.
AT&T’s business decision and the FCC’s conditions on the AT&T-Cingular merger resulted in AT&T losing the two Cingular sites in Albany. The result of this combination of bad decision making and FCC mandates results in the city bearing an unfair burden of permitting new AT&T sites in our community, which already has more cell sites per capita than surrounding cities, to make up for the fact that AT&T had sites here and gave them up.
Albany Residents for Responsible Oversight of Wireless (ARROW)
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