Such are the vicissitudes of life in the twilight of the 20th century that in a world of uncertainty and doubt, one principle remains constant and abiding: Nothing is ever simple.
You see it all the time.
If you simply want to fly from Baltimore to Dallas without paying a fare that once would have purchased the airplane, you have to go by way of Cleveland or, perhaps, Detroit. If you have a tooth ache and simply want relief, you must go to a dentist who will not just plug or pull it. No, the dentist will triage you to a specialist, who will prescribe pills and palliativeswhich must, of course, be approved by a battery of claims examiners. And then the specialist will tell you to bring your mouth back in a week.
The same endemic complexity arises when you try to decide what to think of the biggest corporate merger in the history of the world. (Such an unprecedented, record-breaking phenomenon, incidentally, seems to occur nowadays about every six months. Not long ago, it was the unprecedented, record-breaking $82-billion union of Exxon and Mobil. Now, it’s the $115-billion-plus betrothal of MCI WorldCom and Sprint.)
As we report on Page One, MCI WorldCom, the nation’s second largest long-distance telephone service provider, is about to swallow Number Three: Sprint. The outcome of that merger would be a mammoth corporation, holding vast power to affect our lives and schools.
For some, seeing so much business muscle in one enterprise might be worrisome. It certainly doesn’t sit well with some consumer advocates or with the Communications Workers of America, who want to keep MCI WorldCom and Sprint disconnected to save thousands of their members’ at-risk jobs. So, from some perspectives, the merger might be a bad thing.
But wait a minute. Competition is supposed to be the lubricant of commerce and the bulwark against price gouging. And, WorldCom, the giant that would result from the proposed amalgamation, would still be a full head shorter than its nearest rival, the towering Number One telco, AT&T.
Without MCI WorldCom and Sprint coming together and bulking up, it’s unclear what other telecommunications contender in that land of giants would be even close to large enough to pose serious competition for AT&T. And thus, from some vantages, the proposed merger might be a good thing.
From the perspective of education, one additional consideration might help push this plan toward the light instead of toward the darkness. That factor, naturally, is yet another complexity of contemporary commerce. Before this merger can be consummated, the two companies need the blessing of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
FCC Commissioner William E. Kennard has said it is not obvious why this proposed merger would benefit consumers. The burden of proof, he said, is on MCI WorldCom and Sprint to show how this proposed move would benefit society.
Memo to telco titans: Kennard is an avid supporter of education and a strong proponent of equal opportunity for America’s youth.
Because of their unique stewardship of the infrastructure of the Information Age, derived in part from public resources, all telecommunications companies have a special responsibility to education and young people. And, in fact, all major telcoes have honored this responsibility to one degree or another.
But wouldn’t now be an especially propitious time for MCI WorldCom and Sprint to underscore their existing commitment to education with bold new initiatives? This might be just the sort of proof Commissioner Kennard is looking for. Doing more to help our schools prepare students for success in the Information Age certainly would be a radiant example of good corporate citizenship, at least in my book.
I’m also tempted to ask themwhile they’re busy mergingif they could maybe please consolidate some of the tons of paper that make my multiple telephone bills so mind-boggling. I’m tempted to ask that, but I won’t. It wouldn’t do any good.
Nothing is ever simple.