The battle between AT&T and Sprint Nextel continues, and this one isn’t about consumer rate plans. AT&T and Sprint are engaged in disagreements in 22 states about what they pay each other for connecting calls between their networks. Called interconnection agreements, the two carriers are quibbling over details of the FCC’s conditions of AT&T’s buyout of BellSouth in 2006. Under the terms of the buyout, AT&T agreed that, upon request of any carrier, it would extend the terms of any existing interconnection agreement for a period of three years and that it would allow carriers to port the terms of any existing interconnection agreement from one state to any other state where AT&T does business.
Sprint claims that when it requested to extend its interconnection agreements in some states and port its agreements from one state to another that AT&T denied its requests.
Part of the controversy is over “bill and keep” contracts Sprint Nextel subsidiaries had with BellSouth. “Bill and keep” means that carriers do not actually exchange any money for connecting calls between the networks. Sprint has been attempting to port its bill and keep agreements to other states AT&T operates in.
AT&T claims that Sprint is twisting the language of the FCC’s conditions. Michael Balmoris, spokesperson for AT&T, said, “We take our merger commitments very seriously, and we are abiding by them. Sprint Nextel, however, is wrongly applying this merger commitment…because it wants an agreement which costs them nothing transferred to other states. Our commitment, however, clearly states that these agreements are subject to state specific circumstances, such as pricing plans.”
Although the two are already engaged in various stages of legal wrangling in 22 states, AT&T has brought the matter before the FCC.
While the FCC has not yet ruled on the issue, state utility commissions in Kentucky, Ohio and Kansas have sided with Sprint Nextel, saying that AT&T should honor the bill and keep contracts it has with Sprint. AT&T is currently appealing these decisions.
“It’s pretty easy to understand what’s going on here,” Sprint Spokesperson John Taylor says, “AT&T said whatever they needed to say to secure FCC approval of the BellSouth deal, but they clearly had no intention of keeping their promises.”
Other carriers and companies also have weighed in on the debate. Verizon Communications, MetroPCS and Comcast have all filed statements with the FCC relating their own negotiation issues with AT&T or voicing their concern about AT&T’s actions.
Sprint also claims that AT&T is dragging its feet on the matter because after June 2010, the FCC’s provisions run out and carriers will have to negotiate new agreements with AT&T.