AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA will attract huge scrutiny, and the battle for public opinion is already underway, but if the deal is rejected, it won't be T-Mobile which suffers.
AT&T is pulling out all the stops in its effort to secure regulatory approval for its acquisition of T-Mobile, pointing out that it is securing a foreign-owned operator into American hands, and highlighting plans to provide 4G connectivity for 95 per cent of Americans – though it won't say when. AT&T even has the unions arguing its case, leaving customers as the only people who can possibly lose from the merger, though it seems that T-Mobile wins either way.
This is thanks to a clause in the agreement which sees AT&T hand over $3bn in cash, as well as some unidentified spectrum holdings in the AWS band, if the deal fails for any reason. Not only that, but AT&T promises to arrange roaming with T-Mobile too, so whatever becomes of this deal it won't be bad news for T-Mobile.
The Communication Workers of America (CWA) union seems convinced that it is a good deal for staff too. The union already represents 42,000 AT&T employees and some from T-Mobile USA too (thanks to its cooperation agreement with German union ver.di), and practically begs the regulator to allow the consolidation:
"As with any merger or acquisition involving large entities, oversight issues will be raised. We ask all those involved to balance the inquiry with adequate weight for broadband speed and build out, and employment and workers rights," said the CWA president.
That broadband rollout is AT&T's trump card, though it seems not above slipping a little nationalism into the argument by pointing out that as part of the deal "the only major foreign-controlled US telecom network becomes part of a US-based company".
But it is the 95 per cent coverage pledge which will swing any approval. The US National Broadband plan calls for such coverage, and while AT&T isn't saying when it will provide LTE coverage to all but 5 per cent of Americans, it is the nearest thing to a viable plan on the table. AT&T already plans to provide coverage to 80 per cent of the US population by 2013, but with the T-Mobile's radio spectrum, and cell sites, it is planning to push that up another 15 per cent – eventually.
The rationale for the acquisition is obviously the closure of cell sites and removal of duplicate services, but the public face of the move will be the preservation of American jobs and the extension of LTE coverage – at least for the next 12 months while the approval process rumbles on. ®