FCC Wants Further Scrutiny of AT&T T-Mobile Merger

AT&T is finding that making the $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA a reality will be an uphill battle. The mobile broadband operator expected the FCC and other U.S. government agencies to green light the merger, but this week FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asked commissioners to send the proposal to a judge for a hearing and further scrutiny. FCC staff came to the conclusion that the proposed merger would "significantly diminish competition" and lead to job losses.

During a press briefing yesterday, FCC officials also disputed AT&T’s claims that the merger would create new jobs and "significantly spur" the expansion of wireless high-speed Internet.

Analyst like Jeffrey Silva at Medley Global Advisors believes that AT&T will have a long legal battle on its hands if it wants to salvage the deal.

"The FCC and DOJ work hand in hand," Silva told Bloomberg in a telephone interview. The FCC’s move "shows that AT&T has made no progress in the negotiations with the DOJ."

"It is yet another example of a government agency acting to prevent billions in new investment and the creation of many thousands of new jobs at a time when the U.S. economy desperately needs both," Larry Solomon, an AT&T spokesman, said in a statement.

While a trial is probable commissioners have yet to vote on Genachowski's recommendation for review by an agency judge. The administrative law judge presiding over the hearing delivers an initial verdict that is then voted on by agency commissioners.

Herbert Hovenkamp, a professor and antitrust expert at the University of Iowa College of Law, tells Bloomberg that the FCC's version of a trial is "farther-reaching than a court trial."

Andrew Lipman, a Washington-based partner with Bingham McCutchen LLP, said in an interview yesterday that this action is the first time since 2002 that the FCC has moved to bring a communications merger to a hearing before an agency judge.

"A hearing could go on for six to 12 months," Lipman said. "It’s certainly a significant obstacle and roadblock."

But the chances of AT&T simply giving up on the merger plan is unlikely because it will cost them a lot of money either way. AT&T has agreed to pay Deutsche Telekom a breakup fee of $3 billion as well as spectrum if the deal falls through for a total of as much as $7 billion.

"Too much money remains at stake for it to concede defeat and drop the deal," Andrew Gavil, an antitrust professor at Howard University School of Law in Washington, said in an interview. "They’ve locked themselves in to take it to the mat."

We will continue to follow this story as it develops. Source: Business Week

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