Battle Lines Drawn Over AT&T, T-Mobile Deal

FCC receives more than 28,000 comments

The battle lines around AT&T's proposed $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom have now been fully drawn.

When the deadline for comments on the deal expired Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission had received more than 28,000 comments, most of them from consumers opposing the deal. More than 1,800 came in on Tuesday alone. The proposed sale has been a hot topic in Washington, as the sides had already begun to square off in statements and counterstatements, ads, websites, and blog smack downs.

As the filing deadline neared, Sprint—which would quickly become a distant No. 3 in the wireless race if the deal goes through—led the opposition charge with a filing that ran for more than 50 pages. Vocal about its position from the day the transaction was announced, Sprint also held a background briefing with reporters in order to provide more of the same arguments that it's been making, warning about what it sees as threats to consumers, competition, and the economy posed by the deal. Sprint also accused AT&T of sitting on its hands (as well as unused spectrum) in developing its network.

In the last two weeks, other competitors worried about the 80 percent market-share duopoly that would be created by the deal, including Leap Wireless, MetroPCS, and several rural carriers, have joined Sprint. Another, U.S. Cellular, wants regulators to impose certain conditions on AT&T as part of the deal, similar to the way in which Comcast's purchase of NBCU was handled. Consumer and policy organizations such as Free Press, Public Knowledge and Media Access Project—many of which are running consumer petition drives—also filed against the merger. 

AT&T is not without supporters, though. Because the deal transfers T-Mobile, currently owned by a German company, to American hands, and thus promises more jobs in the U.S., the AFL-CIO and five major unions representing a membership of more than 15 million support the deal, according to AT&T's blog. The company's job's policies also drew minority group supporters including Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and NAACP. In its brief, MMTC praised AT&T for having "the strongest minority procurement program in the wireless industry."

Other supporters include the governors of 14 states, leaders from the high tech sector such as Microsoft.

Both the FCC and the Department of Justice must sign off on the deal; that process is expected to take at least a year.