Report: AT&T trying to sell assets to save T-Mobile deal

Bloomberg reports company offering spectrum, subscribers to competitors

If the rumors are true, AT&T recently has approached no less than five other companies -- including one of the biggest critics of its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA -- in a bid to save the $39 billion deal.

According to "two people with direct knowledge of the situation" cited by Bloomberg, the company is hitting up "smaller rivals including MetroPCS Communications Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc. to sell spectrum and subscribers."

The phone company, based in Dallas, has also reached out to CenturyLink Inc. Dish Network Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp. to gauge their interest in buying assets, said the people, who declined to be identified because the talks are private.

The real question isn't how much AT&T would have to give up in order for the U.S. Department of Justice to drop the antitrust lawsuit it filed on Aug. 31, but how much of what is going on prior to a scheduled Sept. 21 meeting between the company and the DoJ is a charade.

I honestly can't tell.

It's hard to believe the White House would want to appear anti-business in an election year by having the DoJ block AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom, so I don't believe an outright rejection of the deal is a possibility, unless AT&T badly misplays its hand (such as by leaking an internal memo mocking the gullibility of the pliant antitrust regulators and celebrating its pending duopoly and price-fixing agreement with Verizon).

AT&T knows this, and is applying pressure by cranking up the D.C. lobbying machine and dangling the prospect of a few thousand U.S. call center jobs as political blackmail incentive to approve the merger.

But the DoJ and Federal Communications Commission can't just wave the acquisition through because only in AT&T's fantasy world could going from four national wireless carriers to three inaugurate a glorious new world of consumer choice, technological advancement and low prices.

So AT&T offers up concessions in tiny little increments, inching toward the (invisible) magic point that will tip the scale in its favor.

Will AT&T and the DoJ move closer to a settlement when they meet on Wednesday? Probably not. The language in the DoJ's lawsuit was strong and emphatic regarding its assertion that the deal will hurt consumers. The department can't turn around three weeks later and approve the acquisition because AT&T threw a few spectrum and subscriber crumbs at MetroPCS or Leap.

Or can't it?

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