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AT&T: Deja Vu, All Over Again

To say that reports yesterday that AT&T is close to completing a deal to acquire BellSouth brought back memories of a not-so-long ago merger would be an understatement. In a surreal variation on Groundhog Day, the Sunday AT&T disclosure took me back to a day a little over a year ago when SBC declared its intent to snap up its former parent corporation AT&T. So a 12 month-span that also saw Verizon buy MCI is starting to look a lot like 1984 all over again.But before we dig up that old copy of George Orwell and start reminiscing there are still some very big unknowns. For one, there is no guarantee that regulators will greenlight this merger. For another, it is a very different telecom environment from the "olden days" with the rise of Internet and wireless technology changing not just the face but the backbone of the industry. And the "new" AT&T is certainly not the same company.

However this shakes out, customers in BellSouth's territory have to be wondering what the net impact will be on them. BellSouth, which has dominated the south, was widely respected as a well-run business focused on meeting its customer requirements. Yet as strong as its regional presence is, the company's continued concentration on that made it an obvious target for a bigger, stronger buyer.