• United States

A new face, not unlike the old one?

Dec 12, 20053 mins

I’ve been pondering the AT&T/SBC meld for a while, mostly with derision. For example, see “Oedipus techs.”

The combination – called a merger on the new AT&T Web page, but rather much more of an acquisition, along the lines of buying an old Victrola record player at a yard sale – became final on Nov. 18. The new company, counter to my expectations, has taken the name AT&T and adopted a logo that is a more colorful version of the old AT&T “Death Star.” In other words, SBC has put on a new image, very much along the lines of the face transplant given to a French dog bite victim fewer than 10 days later.

Reading the news coverage of the French operation, I was struck by some amazing coincidences (to follow the lead of an old TV routine) between the two events. The doctors took the face off a brain-dead donor and put it on a person who was in rather bad shape. That is pretty much what happened with AT&T and SBC. If AT&T was not brain-dead, it was clearly in an advanced state of brain decay. For years, it had not done anything technically or in the realm of business that would indicate to an outside observer that there was much more than the autonomic nervous system working anymore. At the same time, SBC was no Charles Atlas; instead, it was well on its way to being the 90-pound weakling. I should note that there were lingering pockets of neural function left in AT&T: One of these was its very good Washington, D.C., lobbying effort, which spent much of its time trying to counterbalance the greed of companies such as SBC. I do not expect that effort is long for this world.

The headline on a New York Times story about the French operation said that the woman got “a new face, not unlike the old one.” Not unlike the old one, because many characteristics of the new face would be guided by the underlying bone structure of the recipient. I fully expect that the new AT&T will think – if that’s the right word – and act just like the old SBC.

The Washington Post’s report on the medical story noted that “no bones were transplanted during the operation.” It’s not clear that there were many bones left in the old AT&T that could have been transplanted, but there is no indication that any were.

It now develops that the dog may have been trying to wake the woman from the effects of a suicide attempt. It is hard to count the number of times that the old AT&T did things that just about killed it. AT&T finally succeeded. Now all that is left is a black and blue logo that is the face of the new company, just like the reportedly black-and-blue face of the French woman. I hope that she does better with her new face than I expect the new AT&T will (unless Congress interrupts the fate that economic Darwinism would otherwise dictate).

Disclaimer: Harvard is thinking about a new face to complement, rather than replace, the old one, but the above commentary on new faces is my own.