The Federal Communications Commission officially granted AT&T and T-Mobile's request to withdraw their merger application on Tuesday. But that's where the good news ended for the telecoms. The commission did dismiss the merger application without prejudice, meaning it could be filed again, but it also said it would keep the docket open—and release a staff report that could be seriously embarrassing for AT&T.
The full draft of the hearing designation order that contains the staff report can't be released because it was just a draft. But the commission can release the 109-page staff report (and about 40 pages of appendices), at least a redacted version, because it was prepared prior to the companies' withdrawal request and was intended for public consumption, FCC senior officials said during a briefing with reporters.
The FCC's move pleased opponents of the $39 billion merger, especially liberal groups Public Knowledge and Media Access Project, which had urged the FCC not to grant the withdrawal, and to release the study.
"The American public paid for scores of FCC employees to work, often around the clock, for nine months investigating the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile deal. AT&T attempted to forestall release of the staff’s detailed findings of fact and law by pulling its application. The public is entitled to know how its money was spent, and to know what the FCC staff concluded," said Andrew Schwartzman, MAP's policy director.
The FCC's staff report lays out the case that granting the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile would not serve the public interest. It includes an overview of claims made by the companies, and the impact on jobs. The report also concludes that there were substantial material questions of fact about the merger that required further probing.
In a blog post, AT&T said that any release of a report from staff would be "irrelevant and potentially prejudicial," especially as the company prepares to defend its merger against the Department of Justice in federal district court. The deal between the two could also change before it files again with the FCC.
In a separate post, AT&T's chief lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, called the FCC's decision "troubling," saying, "This report is not an order of the FCC and has never been voted on. It is simply a staff draft that raises questions of fact that were to be addressed in an administrative hearing, a hearing which will not now take place. It has no force or effect under law, which raises questions as to why the FCC would choose to release it. The draft report has also not been made available to AT&T prior to today, so we have had no opportunity to address or rebut its claims, which makes its release all the more improper."