For many of us, the days before search engines, social networking and constant wireless access to information and entertainment seem like a lifetime ago. But for those young adults about to start their first year of college, that is literally the case.
The Beloit College Mindset List, an annual compilation designed to examine the perspective of incoming college freshmen, leads off this year with a simple fact that has startling implications: the incoming class of 2016—largely born in 1993—has never lived in a world without the Internet.
This is a generation that has integrated constant access to the Internet into every aspect of their lives. And according to a recent study by The Newspaper Association of America Foundation, they are increasingly connecting to the Internet through their smartphones. The survey found that smartphones are replacing televisions, desktop and laptop computers and other devices as the primary provider of information among 16-20 year olds.
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In a world where access to the Internet increasingly means access to opportunity, nothing could be more important than ensuring that young people can get online cheaply and stay connected. The need for wireless access is especially clear for young people of color and people from low-income communities, who are more likely to rely on their cell phones as their only means of accessing the Internet.
Given that, the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile should raise significant concerns for young people and those who are interested in protecting access to information for all. Currently T-Mobile plans cost $15 to $50 less per month than comparable plans from AT&T. If this merger is approved, new subscribers will no longer have access to this lower cost option and 80 percent of the wireless market will be controlled by just two corporations: AT&T and Verizon. The reduced competition is likely to result in higher prices for consumers. This is particularly bad news for students who are struggling to get by in an economy with high unemployment, tight family budgets and rising tuition costs.
Less competition is also likely to mean a decline in service and fewer innovations for subscribers as providers have less need to find strategies to hold onto existing customers.
We need to ensure that mobile devices and the access they provide remain affordable. Doing this will require more competition, not less in the wireless market. As the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice consider whether to approve this merger, they should think carefully about the impact it will have on the ability of this generation to access information. For the benefit of these young adults, and for all consumers, they should strike down this unnecessary and harmful merger.