FCC To Add Yet Another Speed Bump To AT&T/T-Mobile Deal

While we all wait for the legal fireworks that are sure to come from the Justice Department’s lawsuit to stop the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile, the folks at the Federal Communications Commission are reportedly looking to hold an administrative hearing on the deal, which could make things even more difficult for the merger.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the hearing — a rare move that adds an additional layer of review to the approval process — would not happen until after the conclusion of the DOJ trial, which is set to begin in early 2012.

Consumers Union policy counsel Parul Desai explains that this essentially means the FCC will hold a trial-type hearing where AT&T will be compelled to show the merger is in the public interest.

“We applaud the Chairman’s initiative to recommend a hearing looking in to the proposed merger,” says Desai. “This move recognizes that the merger raises concerns and questions for policymakers and consumers alike and, in turn, deserves the highest level of review. We believe it is critical for the FCC to examine the consequences of a combined AT&T/T-Mobile, including higher prices, fewer choices, and the negative impact on competition in the wireless market — all which make it clear that this merger is simply not in the public’s best interest.”

In a statement to Consumerist, Larry Solomon, AT&T’s senior vice president of Corporate Communications writes:

The FCC’s action today is disappointing. It is yet another example of a government agency acting to prevent billions in new investment and the creation of many thousands of new jobs at a time when the US economy desperately needs both.

At this time, we are reviewing all options.

It’s been almost 10 years since the last time the FCC held an administrative hearing. The more recent hearing was in 2002 regarding the proposed (and ultimately unsuccessful) merger of EchoStar and DirecTV.

Back in April, shortly after AT&T stunned most onlookers by announcing the $39 billion deal to purchase T-Mobile USA, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told Consumerist that he believed it would be a “steep, steep, steep climb,” to get the merger approved, as it would effectively create a duopoly in the U.S. wireless market.

FCC Chief to Seek Hearing on AT&T Deal [WSJ.com]