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TheStreet Open House

AT&T/T-Mobile Block Harms Job Creation

Stocks in this article: TDTSVZ

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

By Bruce Mehlman

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Consumer confidence is plunging. Economic growth has stalled. Foreclosures persist, the European debt debacle continues, U.S. unemployment remains high and America's annual government deficits are north of a trillion. The global economy is a scary place.

Yet amid the financial doom and gloom, one bright spot remains: mobile broadband. Throughout the dot-com bust of 2001, the financial collapse of 2008 and the 2011 debt dip, broadband availability, adoption and innovation expanded steadily and impressively. Wireless data services barely existed in 2001; today, more than 300 million Americans subscribe.

Wireless devices of a decade ago are museum relics compared with the current generation of smart phones, tablets and mobile appliances. Expanding wireless services will lead to critically-needed new jobs for our economy...as many as 771,000 according to Deloitte, both in the telecom industry directly and in the broader ecosystem of broadband-enabled jobs.

Mobile broadband is not just the golden goose: it's the only goose. So the Justice Department's recent decision to oppose a pro-broadband merger between AT&T (T) and Deutsche Telekom's (DT) T-Mobile makes little economic, technological or political sense.

While the President and FCC correctly point to innovation as the only key to long-term growth and competitiveness, this action is inconsistent with those goals. Investing billions of the 2009 stimulus on broadband; reforming antiquated universal service and spectrum policies; using the bully pulpit to urge 98%broadband penetration are all useful initiatives. But government alone cannot get the job done. Blocking the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile combination will undermine and counteract any benefits realized from those other policy actions.

The inconsistency of the DOJ action may in part result from non-technologists' failure to appreciate how rapidly tech markets are evolving. The days of Standard Oil are long gone, and few leading tech companies remain on top for long. Or perhaps some lawyers are listening to the doom-and-gloom voices warning that this merger would spell the end of wireless competition, just as skeptics counseled against previous wireless combinations. In reality each subsequent merger has enabled greater investment, faster innovation, lower prices for consumers and more robust mobile services.

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