Ina Fried

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Road Gets Rockier for AT&T’s T-Mobile Deal

You can add the chairman and staff of the Federal Communications Commission to the list of those who believe AT&T’s deal to acquire T-Mobile USA would hurt competition.

The Department of Justice has already filed suit seeking to block the deal, which requires approval from both agencies.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has circulated a draft opinion that would seek to have a hearing before an administrative law judge, though the commission is likely to hold that hearing only after the DOJ suit is decided. If the Justice Department is successful in its effort, the FCC move would be moot. However, AT&T now needs to go 2-for-2 if it hopes to complete the deal.

The decision is not shocking, given that the FCC had indicated it shared some of the Justice Department’s concerns.

However, what is noteworthy is just how strong the agency’s concerns are.

FCC officials said on Tuesday that the agency found in its review not only that the deal would hurt competition, but also that it represents an unprecedented reduction in competition. In every market except Omaha (where T-Mobile does not offer service), the agency found that the merger would reduce competition to a meaningful degree.

The agency staff also rejected AT&T’s claims that the deal would lead to a faster or more complete rollout of 4G. And, rather than create jobs, the FCC staff believes approval of the deal would actually lead to fewer U.S. jobs.

AT&T, naturally, said it was not thrilled with the decision.

“The FCC’s action today is disappointing,” said Larry Solomon, SVP of corporate communications. “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. At this time, we are reviewing all options.”

In addition to setting up a possible second court battle, the FCC findings also mean that any proposed settlement would have to satisfy two agencies, both of whom seem to see little merit — and lots of harm — in the deal. Oh yeah, Sprint and C-Spire Wireless have also filed suits of their own.

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