AT&T in South Africa

A reader sends a link to a South African article on AT&T’s (nee SBC) behavior there. The gist is that AT&T’s leadership saw an opportunity to secure a (limited life) monopoly as part of the reform in post-segregationist South Africa, took it, reaped monopoly profits, did not complete its build-out commitments, and exited when its monopoly period ran out with pots full of money.

It’s a rare moment when the monopolist mentality of our Telecom Overlords is clearly visible. From the article:

…recounts the manner in which the new democratic government’s worthy intentions – to roll out telephone service to the previously disadvantaged and establish an independent regulator to oversee the reform – were thwarted by lack of trust in democratic structures outside of the ANC’s immediate control and the ANC’s inability to control powerful international players involved in privatisation. SBC, described as “congenitally litigious”, is said to have played a major role in the failure of South Africa’s telecoms policy to develop a competitive telephone service.

Under SBC’s control Telkom not only failed to meet its roll-out obligations but behaved “as a tax on industry and a drag on economic growth”.

One has to wonder if the US Telecoms aren’t exporting behavior they learned in dealing with the US states where their successful attempts to use state legislation to prevent the introduction of new competition was most recently expressed by phone company-written laws that forbid or crippled municipalities’ attempts to build competing networks. (See the endless coverage here on the (un)Fair Competition Act.) From further back, a summary of the problems pointed out in the “200 Billion Broadband Scandal” might be that the baby Bells hoodwinked state regulators and deceived state legislators to the tune of 200 billion dollars when they made bargins with the states build 45 meg (symmetrical!) fiber connections in return for the favorable treatment they sought and received. Needless to say those commitments weren’t honored.

As Mike is wont to say: “It’s in their genes.” —It’s certainly and undeniable part of their corporate culture. You can’t trust them…and you can’t say you weren’t warned.

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