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Advocacy group alleges AT&T misleading Congress members over true cost of nationwide LTE roll-out

Free Press, an advocacy group working for media reform, last week sent a letter to select members of Congress saying they had been misled earlier this summer “by AT&T’s false claim” that it needed to acquire T-Mobile so it could deliver wireless broadband to 97 percent of the nation’s population.

The letter, sent to members of Congress who in June called for increased deployment of advanced wireless broadband service, references an online posting of documents filed by AT&T with the FCC in which the company said it would require an estimated $3.8 billion in capital expense to expand LTE coverage from 80 percent to 97 percent of the U.S. population, one-tenth the amount needed to acquire T-Mobile.

Calling the benefits of the acquisition as described by AT&T “little more than smoke and mirrors,” the letter said the document has revealed the truth, that AT&T can deliver 97 percent mobile broadband coverage without the acquisition of T-Mobile and its spectrum. Free Press asked the lawmakers to review the information that emerged in the document and revise their recommendation of the acquisition to the Department of Justice and the FCC.

The document, which briefly appeared on the FCC website, was a redacted version of an Aug. 8 correspondence between Richard Rosen, Counsel for AT&T, and Marlene Dortch, Office of the Secretary, at the FCC. It recounts a teleconference on Aug. 4 between AT&T’s legal team and FCC staff and lays out how AT&T management initially had rejected additional spending to expand LTE service coverage of the U.S. population from 80 percent to 97 percent. It lays out how the acquisition of T-Mobile “changes the calculus of LTE deployment” and makes it more acceptable for AT&T to “absorb the increased capital investment and lower returns” resulting from deployment to more than 97 percent of the U.S. population.

However, the Free Press letter to Congress said the acquisition is more about doing away with competition than affordable LTE deployment.

“In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, AT&T continues to assert that its $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile is necessary for the company to bring high-speed mobile broadband service to 97 percent of the country. The numbers don’t add up. It’s clear that AT&T is willing to pay a hefty premium to kill the competition,” the letter said.

Despite the Free Press objection, various media reports indicate AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile faces no serious threats and appears on track to approval from federal regulators.