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AT&T, DirecTV merger to bring more broadband to Joplin

07/31/2015 | 12:01am US/Eastern

A merger between AT&T and DirecTV means the expansion of high-speed Internet options for the Joplin market and expansion of broadband services to rural areas. But other than a general four-year deadline for a complete project, company officials had no more specific deadlines or targets for Joplin expansion.

The merger between the two companies gained regulatory approval last week from the Federal Communications Commission. It combines DirecTV's video content offerings, such as premium cable channels and the NFL Sunday Ticket, with AT&T's broadcasting capabilities to mobile devices.

AT&T purchased DirecTV for $48.5 billion.

"This transaction allows us to significantly expand our high-speed Internet service to reach millions more households," said AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson in a statement. "We're now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition."

The merger effectively makes AT&T the country's biggest traditional TV provider and transforms the company known for cellphone service into a competitor for cable and satellite TV services, such as Cable One and Suddenlink, which operate across the region.

According to a report from Consumerist.com, the American Cable Association, a trade group representing small and mid-sized cable companies, submitted a filing with the FCC raising concerns that the merger would give AT&T "an increased incentive to charge greater fees" to pay-TV providers, and effectively price smaller competitors out of access.

Cable One has been involved in four carriage-fee disputes over the last two years, and has lost rights to broadcast Viacom networks such as Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The merger may lead to more of those fee disputes, the filing argued.

An email response from a Cable One spokesperson did not specifically address carriage fees, but indicates that the company is also upgrading its network in Joplin and nationwide.

Trish Niemann, public relations director, said in the email that the company is investing $1.7 million to improving its Joplin coverage, and has invested more than $18 million over the past five years. A transition to what the company calls "All Digital" service will let the company add 40 more HD channels, better picture quality and faster Internet speeds.

"We currently have competition across all 42 of our markets from various providers, Niemann said. "We appreciate our customers and their loyalty to their local company. We've served Joplin since the 1950s and our customers appreciate the fact that we have a local office they can visit if they have a question or issue."

AT&T's purchase of DirecTV was approved after Comcast's bid for Time Warner Cable, which would have made the country's biggest cable company even more massive, was blocked. The AT&T deal did not trigger the same fears from consumer advocates because the company wouldn't contain an entertainment division such as Comcast's NBCUniversal and wouldn't gain Internet customers — considered the future of the industry — by buying DirecTV.

As part of the conditions AT&T agreed to with the FCC, the company will offer all-fiber Internet access to at least 12.5 million customer locations, from residences to small businesses, according to a spokesperson for AT&T. When combined with AT&T's existing network, the company will be able to reach about 25.7 million customer locations with download speeds of 45 megabytes per second or higher.

When asked about a timetable for the rollout of those services, the spokesperson was unable to provide any further details outside of a four-year projection for the entire project's completion.

Other requirements from the FCC include AT&T offering discount fixed broadband services to low-income households, terms and conditions for its service not favoring its own video programming and submitting regular compliance reports to the FCC.

Current AT&T and DirecTV customers don't need to do anything differently. Services, channel lineups and customer account management will remain the same, according to a company statement

On the same day the merger was approved, AT&T rolled out HD Voice services in Missouri including Joplin, Neosho and Springfield and other surrounding areas.

The service uses its LTE network to enhance call quality for better sound and elimination of background noise. Additionally, according to a press release, the service will enable customers to browse the Internet at high speeds during a phone call.

Verizon and T-Mobile also offer HD Voice services in the Joplin area.

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(c) 2015 NEWVISION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers

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