Break-up of AT&T intensifies the struggle

Click to follow
The break-up of AT&T will bring an intensified struggle in Europe for customers, mounted by companies that increasingly offer similar services and common approaches to sales and marketing. The old AT&T was certainly active in Europe - first in Britain, where deregulation came early, and then on the Continent, where it has developed a joint venture with four telecoms operators to sell services to business users. But with its vertically integrated structure, it moved slowly, never quite sure whether it was primarily a network services provider, a maker of equipment or even a computer manufacturer.

Now, the communications services arm, which will retain the AT&T name, will look a lot like BT, arguably the most successful global operator among the Europeans. With its European partners, grouped under the name Uniworld, the slimmed-down AT&T may also provide pretty serious competition to BT's array of European joint ventures and to the controversial France Telecom-Deutsche Telekom link that is still awaiting European Commission approval.

The fact that all three alliances are following a similar path - offering dedicated services to business - suggest an intense battle for customers in the years ahead.

If the Commission insists on concrete steps toward liberalising the market for telecoms, by 1998 at the latest, BT is convinced it can compete.

But that "if" remains important. The full effects of competition will only be unlocked if the continental markets are truly open. That will require rapid movement by laggards France and Germany toward preparing for the deregulated world of post-1998. Making sure the market is truly liberalised is the only way to ensure that the benefits accrue to the consumer.