Inc (T) hopes
to soon complete
an acquisition of Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTE) T-Mobile
USA. But to get there, the companies have to navigate through a
Congressional inquiry -- which occurs today -- regulatory hurdles set up by a
number of government agencies, and strong opposition from smaller rivals.
I. Birth of a Duopoly
The move would unify T-Mobile's 32.3 million subscribers with AT&T's 97.5
million subscribers to form the nation's largest carrier, easily
surpassing Verizon Communications, Inc.'s (VZ)
104 million subscribers. Together, Verizon and AT&T would have 80
percent of contract cell phone customers in the U.S.
The move would leave the struggling Sprint Nextel Corp. (S)
with 51 million customers as the only alternative to Verizon/AT&T.
Sprint Nextel is viewed as a potential acquisition target as well.
Before AT&T can complete its purchase, it must gain approval from the U.S Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
II. Congressional Inquiry
The road to that approval begins today in a special Congressional hearing on
the deal. AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson and T-Mobile USA
CEO Philipp Humm will have to defend the acquisition before the U.S. Senate's antitrust subcommittee.
The Senate does not have power to approve or reject mergers, but it wields
control over the DOJ and FCC to execute its objectives. According to a Reuters report, staffers point to loss of competition and
jobs as two key concerns for federal officials.
AT&T and T-Mobile vigorously promoted the alleged merits of the deal,
saying it will provide faster data service to customers on both networks, and
better voice network coverage. They also argue it will allow them to use
their collective spectrum more efficiently at a time when spectrum is at a premium.
Both companies have opted to shirk the expense of deploying true 4G networks
now, instead opting to rebrand 3.5G HSPA+ as "4G".
Current HSPA+ deployments fall far short of the promised spec, much like
current true 4G deployments by Sprint and Verizon. Thus
the incomplete HSPA+ "4G" remains slower in most tests than
Verizon/Sprint's incomplete true 4G.
III. Mounting Opposition
The merger has a number of high profile opponents, including
Sprint Nextel, Cellular South, and public interest groups. They say the
rise of two super carriers would allow for tactics that would force smaller
competitors out of the market. Sprint spokesman John Taylor comments,
"We continue to believe that this transaction would be bad for consumers,
bad for the wireless industry and bad for the economy."
The DOJ will evaluate antitrust concerns and the FCC will evaluate public
interest issues. The FCC is reportedly already growing concerned about
the merger after a record number of T-Mobile subscribers jumped ship in Q1 2011
and sent it over 4,800 complaints about the proposed deal. FCC
Commissioner Michael Copps says the deal "may be an even steeper
climb" than the controversial Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) acquisition of
NBC Universal. Mr. Copps voted against that approval, but was narrowly
defeated when the deal was approved in January by a 4-1 vote.
In an odd display, T-Mobile continues to air attack ads against AT&T, criticizing its
"slow" networks. The ads depict spokeswoman Carly Foulkes
sympathizing at the plight of her friend "iPhone", who is forever
burdened by his partner "AT&T". The ads perhaps display that
even T-Mobile's leadership on some level believes that the deal won't be
In related news, Verizon and AT&T are battling the U.S. FCC to try to prevent new rules that could force them to
open their towers to smaller players. Similar rules, backed by U.S. law
exist with landline phones and cable internet connections, but do not apply to
quote: This is counter productive, and even big business proponents will be hard pressed to detail how this could be possibly good for consumers.