Is the move by the rival phone companies more about business than helping out?
Is the move by the rival phone companies more about business than helping out? - 
Listen To The Story

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.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow David Gura at @davidgura