Acadiana Business

Scrutiny heats up on AT&T, T-Mobile deal

by Leslie Turk

The proposed mega merger between AT&T and T-Mobile USA has some major regulatory hurdles to clear.

The proposed mega merger between AT&T and T-Mobile USA has some major regulatory hurdles to clear.

The merger was announced Sunday and already has ignited a fierce battle among politicians in Washington and consumer groups who fear it will lead to higher prices.

As expected, competitor Sprint is voicing its opposition to the whopping $39 billion deal, what Bloomberg is reporting as the biggest acquisition worldwide in more than a year. Sprint says it could seriously disrupt wireless competition in the country. Itself viewed as a potential merger partner for T-Mobile, Sprint's objections appear self-serving, as it will be one of the companies hardest hit if the deal materializes, but most industry experts agree close scrutiny is needed to protect consumers from potential price hikes and less choices if the market is overly concentrated. The Federal Communications Commission, because of the transfer of wireless spectrum licences, must approve the deal, and the Department of Justice will likely review it for antitrust issues.

The proposal combines the nation's second largest mobile phone carrier, AT&T, with the fourth largest. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the deal widens the gap between Sprint and its two larger rivals, and would place it last among the national wireless carriers. Sprint's shares, which have gained 19 percent this year through Friday's close, WSJ noted, fell 12 percent to $4.43 Monday morning.

"If approved, the merger would result in a wireless industry dominated overwhelmingly by two vertically-integrated companies that control almost 80 percent of the U.S. wireless post-paid market," said Overland, Kan.-based Sprint in a statement. "AT&T and Verizon are already by far the largest wireless providers. A combined AT&T and T-Mobile would be almost three times the size of Sprint, the third largest wireless competitor."

There is now speculation that regulators could take up to a year to study the proposal and would likely require some divestitures and expansion of rural coverage if the deal wins approval. Read more here.