This morning, AT&T VP Brad Burns released a statement regarding the upcoming Softbank purchase of Sprint, and it carefully treads the line between "passive aggressive displeasure" and "seriously FCC, if this goes through, we're buying like a million carriers":
Softbank's acquisition of Sprint and the control it gains over Clearwire will give one of Japan's largest wireless companies control of significantly more U.S. wireless spectrum than any other company. We expect that fact and others will be fully explored in the regulatory review process. This is one more example of a very dynamic and competitive U.S. wireless marketplace, which is an important fact for U.S. regulators to recognize.
As Chris Ziegler over at The Verge notes, AT&T chose the tone of this particular statement with great care - taking issue with the acquisition, while simultaneously suggesting that if the deal does pass, AT&T won't argue with the decision. The latter is understandable, as AT&T obviously doesn't want the FCC to start looking at carrier acquisitions as de facto highly suspicious.
But, we all know why AT&T sounds a little miffed, too. Late in 2011, the company was eventually forced by the FCC to cancel its $39 billion buyout of T-Mobile USA, in what would have been the largest consolidation of wireless subscribers in US history. It would have also made AT&T the US's largest carrier by subscribers, and by quite a margin.
Now, a Japanese company is buying 70% of a major American wireless provider, and acquiring a controlling stake in a company with massive 4G-ready spectrum holdings (Clearwire). Burns claims that with control of Clear in hand (as of this morning), Sprint (and really, Softbank) is now the largest holder of wireless spectrum in the US. We're not 100% sure if that's true, but it sounds reasonable, and we do know Clear owns a big hunk of the 2500MHz band, which is ripe for LTE usage. This spectrum also has no real neighbors - Clear controls it "end to end" - and that means a data network on these bands could potentially handle a much larger load than those on lower frequencies (eg, 700, 900). This could be especially important for deployment in urban areas.
Anyway, before I bore you too much with spectrum stuff, let's get back on point with AT&T here. Would it be fair for the FCC and DoJ to allow a Softbank purchase of Sprint, while also having denied (in essence) AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile? I think the key difference here is that Softbank doesn't have an existing wireless business in the US. If anything, this will shore up Sprint's wireless position, and hopefully provide AT&T and Verizon some much-needed competition. When it came to the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile, such a merger could only have served to hurt competition, and the FCC obviously recognized such a risk. I wouldn't say we're comparing apples and oranges here, but there are definitely some valid points distinguishing the two deals.
via The Verge