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Merger still necessary after upgrades, AT&T says

Resident: Mega companies not needed
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Two cell phone companies are debating about how coverage should be expanded in the Auburn area, and residents have mixed opinions. This week AT&T announced it is making network upgrades in the Auburn area, including the recently finished monopine cell phone tower on Borland Avenue. The company said it is has also “added additional capacity to 59 cell sites in Placer County to help improve overall service.” AT&T said it is continuing to upgrade “cell sites with fiber optic and Ethernet connections back to the central switching facilities, enabling faster 4G speeds.” AT&T is also still in the middle of a potential merger with T-Mobile. On Sept. 16, attorneys general from New York, Washington, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania joined the United States Department of Justice in an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T, T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom AG in an attempt to block the merger. Sprint has also joined in support of the antitrust suit and John Taylor, spokesman for Sprint, said the company sees the merger as anti-competitive. “After a comprehensive and thorough antitrust investigation, the Attorney General (Kamala) Harris has come to the same conclusion as these other law enforcement officials: AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile will harm consumers and hurt competition in the wireless industry,” Taylor said. “We applaud the attorney general for taking this important step. In doing so, she is standing up for consumers and competition.” Lane Kasselman, AT&T spokesman, said the merger is still necessary, even with the current cell site upgrades. “AT&T faces network spectrum and capacity constraints more severe than those of any other wireless provider, and this merger provides by far the surest, fastest and most efficient solution to that challenge,” Kasselman said. “Additionally, it will allow us to extend our next generation LTE network to more Californians, including in small towns and rural areas.” Kasselman has said in the past that the company’s main concern now is data usage rather than phone calls, because using data on wireless devices has become a priority for many customers. Kasselman said AT&T is both trying to find a solution that will satisfy the Department of Justice’s concerns and preparing for trial. He said the company looks forward to a “successful solution” and going forward with the merger. Auburn resident Felix Avles said he doesn’t currently have a cell phone, but he doesn’t mind the idea of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Auburn resident Judy Melick said she is a Verizon customer, and her service works fine. She said before the cell tower on Borland, her children had to stand outside to use their AT&T cell phones. Newcastle resident Jamie Taggart, Melick’s daughter, said she still finds AT&T’s service to be spotty in some places, but said it has improved after the tower. “It’s interesting because we moved up from the Bay Area and we still go there all the time, and it doesn’t even come in down there,” Taggart said. “That seems odd to me. They are based in San Francisco. To be honest, I do think this tower has made a difference in this neighborhood.” Melick said she thinks it’s important to provide strong data coverage in the Auburn area. She said she supported the tower going up on Borland. “I just think that is now and more in the future the way people are communicating,” she said. Taggart said she doesn’t like the idea of the potential merger because it could bring a lack of competition. “I think these monopolies these phone systems have started to do … I’m not for that,” she said. “It is (good) for AT&T, but not for all of us little people. We don’t want these corporations to get bigger and bigger and dominate.” Auburn resident David Jansen said he is a Verizon customer and his reception and data works well on his phone. Jansen said he thinks extended coverage is important when it comes to having to make emergency calls, but he doesn’t think data is necessary everywhere. He said data on his phone has improved over the last couple years. Jansen said he is against the merger. “We don’t need any more mega companies,” he said. “There goes your competition. You don’t need that.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com