The FCC has taken the first steps in its review of AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile USA.
The commission opened a docket and protective order today which established the procedural framework for the massive $39 billion deal.
The docket was established before the carriers filed applications to transfer control of their spectrum licenses, an unusual move the FCC reserves for major transactions. The FCC used a similar strategy to handle the merger of Cingular and AT&T and Verizon’s buyout of MCI.
The move is expected to help avoid procedural delays in the agency’s review of the deal.
AT&T and T-Mobile will file their applications under docket number 11-65. The protective order creates confidentiality protections for sensitive documents.
AT&T reportedly filed its application for an antitrust review with the Justice Department last week, according to the Washington Post. The operator is expected to file its application to transfer control of T-Mobile’s spectrum licenses with the FCC later this month.
Once AT&T and T-Mobile file their applications for transfer of control, the FCC will review them for completeness and put out a public notice seeking comment on the deal. The agency may also ask AT&T and T-Mobile for additional information to be put into the record.
The agency will consider the merger’s effect on competition in its review of the deal, as well as whether the merger serves the public interest, whether it will encourage the deployment of new advanced services and whether it is consistent with the FCC’s spectrum management goals.
The FCC and the Justice Department are expected to proceed in parallel on the review, as they’ve done in previous transactions.
AT&T has said it expects its merger with T-Mobile to close within 12 months, during the first quarter of next year, but some say the review could take much longer. Strategy Analytics estimates it could take regulators more than 18 months to approve the deal.
AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile has already faced vehement opposition from Sprint and has been scrutinized by lawmakers and state Attorney Generals.
The merger must pass House and Senate hearings; inquiries by state officials; and reviews from the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice and the FCC.
If the deal passes federal approval, AT&T will become the largest carrier in the country and will have a near-duopoly hold on the wireless market together with Verizon Wireless.