Saturday, August 13, 2011


Yesterday a partially-redacted document briefly appeared on the FCC website --accidentally posted by a law firm working for AT&T on the $39 billion T-Mobile deal (somewhere there's a paralegal looking for work today). While AT&T engaged in damage control telling reporters that the document contained no new information a careful review of the doc shows that's simply not true. Data in the letter undermines AT&T's primary justification for the massive deal, while highlighting how AT&T is willing to pay a huge premium simply to reduce competition and keep T-Mobile out of Sprint's hands.

While AT&T is busy telling regulators the deal will increase network investment by $8 billion, out of the other side of their mouth AT&T has been telling investors the deal will reduce investment by $10 billion over 6 years. Based on historical averages T-Mobile would have invested $18 billion during that time frame, which means an overall reduction in investment.

For the first time the letter pegs the cost of bringing AT&T's LTE coverage from 80% to 97% at $3.8 billion -- quite a cost difference from the $39 billion price tag on the T-Mobile deal. The push for 97% coverage apparently came from AT&T marketing, who was well aware that leaving LTE investment at 80% would leave them at a competitive disadvantage to Verizon. Marketing likely didn't want a repeat of the Luke Wilson map fiasco of a few years back, when Verizon made AT&T look foolish for poor 3G coverage.

The letter also notes that AT&T's supposed decision to "not" build out LTE to 97% was cemented during the first week of January, yet public documents (pdf) indicate that at the same time AT&T was already considering buying T-Mobile, having proposed the deal to Deutsche Telekom on January 15. In the letter, AT&T tries to make it seem like the decision to hold off on that 17% LTE expansion was based on costs. Yet the fact the company was willing to shell out $39 billion one week later, combined with AT&T's track record with these kinds of tactics, suggests AT&T executives knew that 80-97% expansion promise would be a useful carrot on a stick for politicians.

The reality appears to be that AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition. That price tag eliminates T-Mobile entirely -- and makes Sprint (and by proxy new LTE partner LightSquared and current partner Clearwire) more susceptible to failure in the face of 80% AT&T/Verizon market domination.

Regardless of the motivation behind rejecting 97% LTE deployment, the letter proves AT&T's claim they need T-Mobile to improve LTE coverage from 80-97% simply isn't true. That's a huge problem for AT&T, since nearly every politician and non-profit that has voiced support for the merger did so based largely on this buildout promise. It's also a problem when it comes to the DOJ review, since proof that AT&T could complete their LTE build for far less than the cost of this deal means the deal doesn't meet the DOJ's standard for merger-specific benefits. [Broadband Reports]

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