Antitrust regulators are getting ready to roll up their sleeves and drill down in their review of AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Communications Commission is asking AT&T to produce detailed information on its "pricing, spectrum holdings and any alternatives it considered to solve its capacity constraints."
Which means alternatives to the proposed purchase of T-Mobile. AT&T is claiming that the merger is necessary for it to provide adequate mobile broadband infrastructure for wireless customers.
AT&T and Verizon are roughly tied for the top spot in the U.S. wireless market with about 33 percent each. No. 4 T-Mobile USA, owned by Deutsche Telekom, is ranked No. 4 with about 11 percent share, while Sprint Nextel, which stands to be the big loser if the deal goes through, currently is in third place with 17 percent of the U.S. market.
The FCC poses 50 detailed questions to AT&T in its 78-page request (which breaks down to $500 million per page, by the way).
In addition to the FCC, the U.S. Justice Department also is reviewing the proposed merger. You can expect this thing to drag out through the summer and beyond because the stakes are pretty high.
In a statement that sounds almost exactly like its previous statements regarding the deal, AT&T on Friday said it was "confident ... the FCC will recognize its significant public interest benefits and approve the transaction."
While it's not unusual for antitrust regulators to ask for detailed information from large corporations trying to gain approval for major mergers -- it is their job, after all -- the deal has even prompted some skeptical questions from Republican lawmakers who traditionally favor a hands-off approach to the market.
Except for Arizona GOP congressman Ben Quayle, who at a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday (see link above) speculated that the merger would be good for consumers because, should AT&T and Verizon raise prices, there would arise a new generation of mobile competitors that somehow would have the resources to compete against two companies with a stranglehold on the market.
You can't argue with logic like that. You can't. Literally.