In Sandy’s aftermath, two rival wireless carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile, have decided to work together. The companies won’t charge each other’s customers roaming fees in New Jersey and New York.
AT&T and T-Mobile have played nice before. They had planned to merge, but the feds shot down that deal last year, on competitive grounds.
Analyst John Byrne, with IDC, says this kind of post-Sandy cooperation may look good, but it is also necessary. Sandy knocked out cell phone towers across the Mid-Atlantic, which strained both networks.
“You have both a supply issue, where there’s not enough towers, and a demand issue, where people are using their phones more than they normally would,” says Byrne, noting this is the first time he has seen wireless carriers collaborate after a natural disaster.
It is also rare in other sectors.
“Individuals, companies, certainly CEOs, are trained to beat one another up in the marketplace,” says Kellie McElhaney, who directs the Center for Responsible Business at the Haas School of Business. “It’s a dog fight.”
But in the aftermath of disasters, that can change.
“We certainly saw it after Sept. 11, or the earthquake in Haiti, where you had technology companies coming together,” says McElhaney. They worked together on software and infrastructure.
But how long can corporate rivals, like AT&T and T-Mobile, sing “Kumbaya”? According to management consultant Peter Cohan, not long.
“Once the disaster is over, they’ll part ways,” he says. “But it seems like it is going to be months before they get all this stuff fixed.”
The FCC estimates a quarter of the cell phone towers in the states Sandy hit hardest are out of commission.