The FCC has combined its review of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger with AT&T's purchase of spectrum from Qualcomm and stopped the clock on the latter transaction review at 180 days effective Aug. 6. The informal clock on AT&T/T-Mobile has already been stopped by the FCC to review new data from AT&T on the deals public interest benefits.
"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," said the FCC in a letter to the companies. "As a result, we have concluded that the best way to determine whether either or both of the proposed transactions serve the public interest is to consider them in a coordinated manner at this time."
The FCC said that did not preclude it from separating the reviews again "at a later time."
AT&T is buying former broadcast spectrum that Qualcomm used to try unsuccessfully to create a new, nationwide pay video service. AT&T argues it will put it to a "higher, better use," advanced 4g wireless service. That is the same argument it is making for the public interest benefits of the T-Mobile purchase.
"We applaud the FCC's decision to consider these transactions together," said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood. "AT&T already has enormous market share, and it is essential to weigh the T-Mobile merger alongside its plans to swallow up Qualcomm's spectrum. We hope the FCC takes into account the serious harm that will be done to innovation, competition and consumers by both acquisitions and rejects these transactions outright. We know how bad Ma Bell was, but Ma Cell will be even worse if the FCC doesn't step in."