updated 05:50 pm EDT, Fri May 27, 2011
FCC asks ATT 50 questions on T-Mobile deal
The FCC finished the week with its first request for information in its decision on whether or not to approve AT&T's buyout of T-Mobile. A set of 50 questions will check how AT&T's wireless spectrum is being used, the nature of its overall network, and why it believed it needed T-Mobile's spectrum to meet its goals for 4G. Officials at the US agency also wanted to know what AT&T had considered, if anything, as a solution to its airwave demands instead of making the $39 billion proposal.
Pricing comparisons with other carriers were also expected to be part of the deal, including long-term plans. The request was a sign the FCC wanted to address concerns that AT&T would use its newfound dominance post-merger to hike its rates.
Most of the details are expected to be secret during the investigation. FCC officials aren't supposed to publicly discuss the proceedings until the vote itself, which hasn't been dated and may be months away. The Department of Justice isn't obligated to provide any information during its own look.
AT&T has contended that it needs T-Mobile's spectrum both to add capacity to its current 3G network, especially in trouble spots like San Francisco, as well as to expand to rural areas. It has promised as much as 97 percent coverage of the US population with LTE-based 4G and would get extra rural coverage from areas where T-Mobile currently has service and AT&T doesn't.
Challengers, including Sprint, other smaller carriers, and public advocacy groups, have disputed these views at a Senate hearing that provided some insight into how the FCC might dispute the merger. They rejected the necessity of getting the extra spectrum and, at one point, called AT&T a "serial acquirer" that used takeovers as substitutes for good network management. They pointed out that AT&T has been sitting on spectrum it hasn't been using, although AT&T has argued that using the airspace as-is would provide an incomplete solution.
Hints have emerged from the FCC that at least some changes would be required if the deal is approved, such as offloading some coverage to other carriers or having to abide by extra net neutrality rules. Advocacy groups have been concerned that the FCC is reluctant to consider an outright rejection of the merger despite the implications for reduced competition.