AT&T Takes Aim at Sprint W. Va.PUC Challenge

AT&T has fired back at Sprint, which two weeks ago asked
the West Virginia Public Utility Commission (PUC) there to investigate AT&T's
proposed purchase of T-Mobile, saying it would raise prices, restrictinnovation and limit choice.

In its response to the PUC, AT&T said Sprint
had virtually no 4G coverage in the state and suggested Sprint wanted
the "overwhelming majority" of the state's residents to go
without that next-generation mobile broadband service. "Sprint is in
no position to complain" about the deal given that lack of service.

One of AT&T's selling points for the proposed $39
billion deal is that it would get that 4G service to 97% of the country, which
is one of the Obama administration's goal as part of a national wireless
broadband initiative announced in the President's State of the Union

Rather than being a negative for West Virginians,
AT&T said that it would benefit schools, businesses, healthcare providers
and others in more rural parts of the state (which in West
Virginia is a lot of real estate).

AT&T asked the commission to either approve the deal in
advance or rule it was exempt from its review, as it did for Sprint when it
acquired Nextel, AT&T pointed out.

AT&T pointed out that the commission has already held it
will not review mergers where the acquired company has essentially no service
in the state, which it says is the case with T-Mobile with no stores or employees
and only 2,300 subs, says AT&T.

Even if the PUC did need to rule on the deal, all it would
have to conclude was that it did not harm the public rather than that it was an
affirmative public good, which AT&T said is an easy call. The status
quo would be sufficient to satisfy the statutory standard, said AT&T,
though it also says the deal would definitely improve on that status quo given
its LTE (4G) plans for the state.

"[A]t Sprint, we can't understand why AT&T would be opposed to a public hearing about their takeover of T-Mobile," says John Taylor, manager of public affairs for Sprint/Nextel. "Why shouldn't consumers in the Mountain State be given the chance to answer questions about how this transaction will impact them?"

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.