Merger cons

Consumers Union says it’s hard to find an upside for consumers in this proposed AT&T deal:

Higher prices may lie ahead if AT&T successfully merges with smaller but spunkier counterpart T-Mobile, consumer advocates warned Monday, because the $39 billion deal would wipe out one of the wireless market’s more notable low-cost players.

For consumers in the Philadelphia region, of particular concern may be whether T-Mobile retains high marks from users, given that T-Mobile and behemoth Verizon scored well ahead of AT&T in a recent regional survey, said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor of Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y.

But in the iPhone race, T-Mobile contract-holders eager to switch to the popular smartphone could find themselves with an option, given Apple’s exclusive relationships with AT&T and Verizon.

The pros and cons will be debated for months, as the megadeal is at least a year away from being approved or rejected by federal regulators. Consumer analysts said its elements would be examined carefully since it would give AT&T dominance over the U.S. cellular market.

“I think at this point, the potential cons outweigh the pros, as far as we can see,” said Reynolds, whose parent company, Consumers Union, has a public-policy staff in Washington eager to help frame the regulatory debate the Federal Communications Commission will undertake on the potential antitrust concerns.

“It’s early, and there are a lot of questions about this deal,” Reynolds said. “Our advocacy folks in D.C. at Consumers Union are feeling like it’s difficult to find a big upside for consumers in this.”