Mergers & acquisitions

FCC Cross-Examines AT&T Spectrum Grabs

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is throwing a bone to the small carriers in the U.S., promising to consider AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile US Inc. and its $1.9 billion bid for Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s 700MHz MediaFLO spectrum in "a coordinated manner." (See AT&T to Buy T-Mobile USA for $39B and AT&T Buys Qualcomm Spectrum for $1.9B.)

Rick Kaplan, chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, didn't go as far as to promise to review the two together, which is what opponents wanted, but he did acknowledge in a letter Tuesday that the two transactions are intertwined.

"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," Kaplan wrote.

The FCC puts an informal 180-day clock on reviewing acquisitions, but is suspending that for Qualcomm, whose 180th day is today.

Why this matters
Opponents of the merger suggest that the two transactions need to be viewed together to show just how powerful AT&T will become if granted the additional spectrum from both companies. But, the FCC's decision to review the two acquisitions in a coordinated manner had the caveat of “without prejudice to independent treatment at a later date," leaving wiggle room to unbundle the two.

Even so, the FCC appears to be taking notice of the challengers to AT&T's T-Mobile purchase. AT&T, Qualcomm and T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) responded by speaking out against combining the reviews.

AT&T, for its part, reiterated its confidence that the deal would go through on its second-quarter earnings call last month. (See AT&T Ups Capex to $20B to Develop 3G & LTE.)

For more
See all our merger coverage here, and read up on more of the regulatory challenges facing it below.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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