A Threat To Maine Jobs

Rather than blathering endlessly about phantom issues invented to simply raise money, I have a suggestion for challengers to Senator Olympia Snowe.  Ask her about where she stands on a potential threat to nearly a thousand Maine workers.  The welfare of the Maine people, after all, is the most important responsibility of a lawmaker representing the state.

Some of the most harmful policies that cost jobs for Mainers, and Americans as a whole, are not a direct result of legislation but instead are carried out by regulatory agencies.  This type of rulemaking often flies under the radar until the harmful consequences are felt in the various states.

The obscure nature of regulatory-level deals also tends to make them more than just a little susceptible to the influence of lobbying.

As even her biggest detractors will admit, Senator Snowe’s longtime presence in Washington and willingness to compromise has put her in a position that allows her to wield significant influence in the United States Senate.  The very “insider-ness” that is so reviled on the campaign trail proves effective at delivering results, even if you don’t agree with what those results are.

Members like Senator Snowe often play a key role in the regulatory process, and one of their most important duties is to try to bring troubling proceedings to light and ensure that there is due diligence and accountability on the part of the regulators with decision-making power.

So, why has Snowe remained mum on an impending merger between wireless carriers that stands to cost Maine nearly 1,000 jobs?

Since T-Mobile was recruited by Matt Jacobson’s business attraction firm Maine & Company in 2006, the midsize wireless company has consistently employed about 800 Mainers at its Oakland call center and was named one of 2009’s Best Places to Work in Maine.

However, that “good news” story may soon be ending.  If the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission allow a proposed AT&T takeover of T-Mobile to go through, those 800 central Maine jobs will very likely be lost.

Apart from the loss of almost 1,000 jobs in a time of already-high unemployment, there is another potentially troubling implication for Maine if action isn’t taken to stop the merger: AT&T sucks.

AT&T has a pattern of neglecting rural communities by stockpiling spectrum instead of deploying broadband capabilities to expand its reach.  In 2009, small carriers like T-Mobile were able to reach 90 percent of homes in rural service areas, whereas AT&T only averaged 55-60 percent.

This means that there’s a good chance that current T-Mobile customers in rural parts of the state will actually see a decrease in service – a possibility that is not only inconvenient but also potentially dangerous with the increasing number of cell phone-only homes.

But more than that, in a state that already has sub-par wireless coverage and is in need of infrastructure development for all things communications, the last thing we need it to downgrade service.

The proposed merger has already met with considerable resistance at the national level by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and state Attorneys General, fearing loss of competition in the market, rising prices for consumers, violation of federal antitrust laws, and the creation of another ‘too big to fail’ corporate entity.

Top Republicans such as Mike Pence have voiced concerns.  Snowe, as a high-ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is a recognized leader on Telecom industry issues.  Her voice would be especially influential with FCC regulators that are in the driver’s seat on this deal.

Senator Snowe should throw her considerable weight on the side of Maine jobs and private-sector competition.  Many people in the state fought hard to bring these jobs to Maine.

With her reelection looming  now is the time for Snowe to show Mainers that she still has the influence to fight for her constituents and win.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.