AT&T Takes Aim at Sprint W. Va. PUC Challenge

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AT&T has fired back at Sprint, which two weeks ago asked the West Virginia Public Utility Commission there to investigate AT&T's proposed purchase of T-Mobile, saying it would raise prices, restrict innovation and limit choice.

In its response to the PUC, AT&T said Sprint had virtually no 4G coverage in the state and suggested Sprint wanted the "overwhelming majority" of the state's residents to go without that next-generation mobile broadband service. "Sprint is in no position to complain" about the deal given that lack of service.

One of AT&T's selling points for the proposed $39 billion deal is that it would get that 4G service to 97% of the country, which is one of the Obama administration's goal as part of a national wireless broadband initiative announced in the President's State of the Union speech.

Rather than being a negative for West Virginians, AT&T said that it would benefit schools, businesses, healthcare providers and others in more rural parts of the state (which in West Virginia is a lot of real estate).

AT&T asked the commission to either approve the deal in advance or rule it was exempt from its review, as it did for Sprint when it acquired Nextel, AT&T pointed out.

AT&T pointed out that the commission has already held it will not review mergers where the acquired company has essentially no service in the state, which it says is the case with T-Mobile with no stores or employees and only 2,300 subs.

Even if the PUC did need to rule on the deal, all it would have to conclude was that it did not harm the public rather than that it was an affirmative public good, which AT&T said is an easy call. The status quo would be sufficient to satisfy the statutory standard, said AT&T, though it also says the deal would definitely improve on that status quo given its LTE (4G) plans for the state.

"[A]t Sprint, we can't understand why AT&T would be opposed to a public hearing about their takeover of T-Mobile," says John Taylor, manager of public affairs for Sprint/Nextel. "Why shouldn't consumers in the Mountain State be given the chance to answer questions about how this transaction will impact them?"

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