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Posted at 06:29 PM ET, 03/21/2011

What the merger might mean for you

The ’net is awash with news today about what the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile means for the spectrum debate, for regulatory agencies and for businesses. But what does the merger mean for customers?

To be honest, not a whole lot, in the short term. The companies face quite a regulatory battle, and that process will take months, if not more than a year to finish. If the deal does go through, however, there are a few things that consumers could expect to change:

Your phone: The Associated Press has reported that T-Mobile customers with 3G phones will eventually have to buy new phones to be compatible with the AT&T 3G network. Even though T-Mobile has said that mobile devices will operate “the same in the future as they do now,” AT&T has said that it will go ahead with the process to change T-Mobile’s towers to 4G. That means that, in several years, current T-Mobile 3G phones will need to be replaced using AT&T’s 3G frequencies.

On the other hand, combining T-Mobile and AT&T’s phone offerings will give users more choice in the kind of phone they can purchase. T-Mobile may not be offering the iPhone right now, but analysts have suggested that it will in the future if it moves to AT&T’s network.

Your service: When it comes to service, Consumer Reports said the customer service is likely to be more like AT&T’s than T-Mobile’s, which according to its own data is not good news for consumers, according to Consumer Reports’ data on networks, which ranked AT&T’s service last in the country.

Your plan: T-Mobile has said that if that merger goes through it will honor plans entered into before the ownership change. However, it’s been mum about whether or not customers will have the chance to renew their old T-Mobile plans in a new AT&T/T-Mobile company.

Right now, T-Mobile offers a version of an unlimited data plan for $30 a month, though it throttles data above 5GB. That’s something AT&T no longer offers.

Your rates: Prices will also probably go up for T-Mobile users. Right now, T-Mobile’s main draw is that it’s priced competitively — that is to say, cheaply. T-Mobile customers may also see their rates go up if they’re folded into a larger AT&T/T-Mobile company, simply because that’s the only direction they can go. Not only that, many consumer advocacy groups warn that approving the merger would decrease competition on the market and increase prices.

AT&T has said that the market is competitive enough to handle an AT&T/T-Mobile merger and is confident that it will pass regulatory scrutiny. Analysts have said AT&T will probably promise reduced consumer rates in order to get the deal approved, but AT&T and T-Mobile have yet to make those promises.

Your coverage: Part of AT&T’s plan to sell the merger to those nervous about the deal is to point out that combining the two companies’ coverage areas will provide better coverage to more of the country, particularly in rural areas.

Related stories:

Proposed merger doesn’t mean a T-Mobile iPhone quite yet

AT&T agrees to buy T-Mobile USA

AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile

A look at AT&T and T-Mobile

By  |  06:29 PM ET, 03/21/2011

 
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