Ina Fried

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FCC Extends Review of AT&T’s Plan to Buy Qualcomm Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission has announced it is putting a halt on its 180-day time clock for reviewing AT&T’s plan to buy a chunk of wireless spectrum from Qualcomm for nearly $2 billion.

In a letter to the two companies, the FCC said that it needs more time to evaluate whether this deal, as well as AT&T’s planned $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA, are in the public interest.

“The Commission’s ongoing review has confirmed that the proposed transactions raise a number of related issues, including, but not limited to, questions regarding AT&T’s aggregation of spectrum throughout the nation, particularly in overlapping areas,” the FCC said in the letter. “As a result, we have concluded that the best way to determine whether either or both of the proposed transactions serve the public interest is to consider them in a coordinated manner at this time, without prejudice to independent treatment at a later date.”

Sprint praised the enhanced scrutiny of the Qualcomm deal as well as the notion of reviewing it in conjunction with the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile deal.

“Given the complexity of the regulatory review of both proposed transactions, it’s a reasonable step for the FCC to coordinate the two reviews,” Sprint VP of government affairs Vonya McCann said in a statement. “The proposed transactions would produce game-changing effects on consumers and on competition in the wireless market. Over the next few months, we look forward to working with the FCC and other interested parties as the FCC conducts a coordinated review of the two transactions.”

Although it halted the clock and indicated it was reviewing the two deals in tandem, the FCC did not formally merge its review of the two transactions, which AT&T held out as something of a victory.

“We believe the Qualcomm transaction stands on its own merits,” AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Commission has rejected calls to officially consolidate the two deals and has expressly preserved the ability for the Qualcomm application to be resolved in advance of the T-Mobile application. We remain confident that the FCC will approve the license transfers as consistent with the public interest.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald