T-Mobile not expected to re-enter D Block debate with merger in jeopardy
Yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to file a lawsuit to block AT&T’s $39-billion attempt to buy T-Mobile USA will not impact significantly the debate on Capitol Hill regarding the proposed reallocation of the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety, according to industry sources.
Prior to the merger announcement in March, T-Mobile was at the forefront of a group of wireless carriers advocating that the D Block be auctioned to commercial operators, as current law dictates. Since the merger announcement with AT&T — a company that has long favored reallocating the D Block to public safety — T-Mobile has been quiet on the topic and other key industry debates.
And yesterday’s DOJ action likely will not result in T-Mobile officials quickly re-energizing the company’s previous stance for a D Block auction, according to mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold.
“This is just a suit, not a determination — it’s the start, but there’s going to be counter filings and a court case and everything else.” Seybold said. “The bottom line is that I think public safety is so close that the D Block issue will be resolved before the AT&T/T-Mobile issue is.
“T-Mobile, at this point, has to keep quiet — not only about the D Block, but about everything. They have been quiet about everything except the business to their customers, which is the right thing for them to do, because this thing is still pending.”
Indeed, T-Mobile has expressed its intention to support AT&T’s efforts to contest the DOJ opposition to the merger in court.
While public-safety groups have expressed concern that T-Mobile’s 911 location-accuracy requirements have not been in line with other national carriers, they have otherwise tried to stay out of the merger debate, Public Safety Alliance spokesman Sean Kirkendall said.
“It’s not our main focus how that works out,” Kirkendall said.
According to a DOJ press release, a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile — owned by German telecom giant Deutsche Telekom — “would substantially lessen competition for mobile wireless telecommunications services across the United States, resulting in higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices and fewer innovative products for the millions of American consumers who rely on mobile wireless services in their everyday lives.”
The merger also needs to be approved by the FCC, which oversees the spectrum side of the proposed merger. In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said his agency has not completed its review process but does have questions about the proposed deal’s impact on the competitive environment in the commercial wireless industry.
“Vibrant competition in wireless services is vital to innovation, investment, economic growth and job creation, and to drive our global leadership in mobile,” Genachowski said in the statement. “Competition fosters consumer benefits, including more choices, better service and lower prices.”