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Cingular spokesman Mark Siegel dismissed the notion there would be public perception issues with the switch back to the AT&T name for the wireless company.

"We built a business," Siegel said. "Is the brand an important part of that business? Yes. But it is a business that is made primarily up of people. None of that changes."

The shift in the U.S. telecom landscape moving from four to three regional Bell operators also is sure to garner close review from Washington.

The deal furthers the reunification of the Baby Bells, the eight regional telephone operators that were spun off from the old AT&T in 1984 under a federal court order. At that time, and in a different regulatory climate, AT&T was largely a long-distance company.

"Twenty years after the government broke up Ma Bell, this deal represents a mother and child reunion," said Rep. Ed Markey, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

"Our nation's telecommunications markets must be vigorously competitive and open to innovation in order to promote job creation and economic growth," Markey said. "This merger proposal is one that unquestionably merits the utmost scrutiny by government antitrust officials."

The combined AT&T and BellSouth would be the country's largest supplier of broadband Internet access. Their combined 9.8 million DSL lines (at the end of last year) would vault them past the current leader, cable company Comcast Corp., with 8.5 million broadband subscribers.

With cable companies increasingly vying for traditional phone companies' share of local telephone service, such mergers in the industry have been commonplace of late. Kagan, the industry analyst, said more could be on the horizon.

"We're not over it yet," Kagan said.

 

AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson contributed to this report from New York.

 

On the Net:

AT&T: http://www.att.com

BellSouth: http://www.bellsouth.com


 
 
 

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