FCC Chairman Defends Release of Draft AT&T-T-Mobile Report

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FCC chairman Julius Genachowski indicated Wednesday that the commission did not release a staff report detailing its objections to the AT&T-T-Mobile deal to reduce the deal's chances at the Justice Department, but because it was always meant to be public and to release it was only fair to all parties.

AT&T has argued the release of the draft report was improper.

The report, which was released even though the FCC withdrew the merger application at AT&T's request, questioned the premise that AT&T's upgrade of its mobile wireless service would create jobs. A reporter asked the chairman at a press conference after the FCC's public meeting Wednesday whether that presumed job creation wasn't also part of the FCC's presumption in pushing for a national broadband plan and spectrum auctions.

Genachowski said they were two different situations. One was a horizontal merger with billions of dollars of claimed efficiencies, and the other modernization of programs to get broadband to millions of people who don't already have it. FCC staffers in a briefing on the report the day before had also made the point that there was a difference between job claims from simply boosting speeds and ones from going from no broadband to broadband.

Asked whether the FCC released the report as a way to decrease the odds that the deal would be approved by Justice, Genachowski said that the report was released because it had been "developed for public release in an important matter that remains highly relevant." He pointed out that AT&T had signaled it planned to re-file the application at a later date. "The FCC still has the responsibility ultimately to approve any transaction," he said. "The reasons to release it were fairness to all the parties that have participated in the proceeding, and transparency."

Genachowski said he would not speculate on what might happen next with the deal.

AT&T has taken issue with the release of the report, arguing that its withdrawal of the application should have ended the FCC's participation.

"The FCC has recognized that it is required by its own rules to dismiss our merger application. This makes all the more troubling their decision to nonetheless release a preliminary staff report on the merger," said AT&T senior EVP Jim Cicconi in a statement Tuesday after the report was published online. "This report is not an order of the FCC and has never been voted on. It is simply a staff draft that raises questions of fact that were to be addressed in an administrative hearing, a hearing which will not now take place. It has no force or effect under law, which raises questions as to why the FCC would choose to release it. The draft report has also not been made available to AT&T prior to today, so we have had no opportunity to address or rebut its claims, which makes its release all the more improper. "