CONSUMER CONFIDENTIAL

Columnist roots for Microsoft. Huh??

And Rupert Murdoch buys everything that's left.

Remember what I said about porn? Now this is what I'd call obscene.

But from the consumer's perspective, what's the choice? For all its virtues, Google is becoming so powerful that it's everything we always thought Microsoft would be -- a world-conquering juggernaut capable of writing its own rules, and to hell with anyone who gets in its way.

Microsoft's playing catch-up here, and, like I say, that's probably a good thing. Before you know it, Google is ramping up its Gmail service to better compete with Yahoo Mail-Hotmail. Microsoft-Yahoo, in turn, is introducing all sorts of cool video services to better compete with YouTube.

Competition = innovation.

If history is any guide, though, the good times won't last.

Ten years ago, as Google was just getting started, Ed Whitacre, who was then chief exec of what was known as SBC, told wary lawmakers in Washington that his company's planned $72-billion acquisition of rival Ameritech would benefit consumers by boosting competition.

"I'd also like to address a concern raised by some who have suggested that SBC and Ameritech have set out to turn back the clock and re-create the old 'AT&T Bell System,' " he said.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Whitacre testified. "The competition genie is out of the bottle."

Since that time, SBC has spent $16 billion acquiring AT&T (and the AT&T name) and $67 billion more acquiring BellSouth. Meanwhile, the old Bell Atlantic has become Verizon Communications, which in turn acquired MCI for $8.5 billion.

AT&T and Verizon are now the country's No. 1 and No. 2 telecom companies, respectively. The 'old AT&T Bell System' is very much alive and kicking.

I conveyed my concerns of a looming oligopoly in the Internet world to Bob Foster, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management who focuses on the tech industry. As it happened, he was just at Google's campus in Mountain View, Calif., last week, meeting with former students.

"At the end of the day, we may have an oligopoly, but there's always room for niche players," Foster said. "There will always be opportunities for smart young technologists."

So go get 'em, Microsoft. And let's just hope some of those smart young technologists will be nipping at your heels before too long.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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