This story was updated with additional comment from Sprint.
Sprint has taken its fight against AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile USA to the states.
On Monday, Sprint’s attorneys in West Virginia asked the state’s Public Service Commission to open an investigation into the deal.
“This Commission should carefully weigh any alleged benefits of the merger against harms to West Virginia consumers and the wireless market generally,” the company said in documents filed with the commission.
Sprint told the state that AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile USA would limit consumer choice and undermine competition, and urged officials to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the transaction.
AT&T filed documents in West Virginia on April 21 asking the state to either approve its merger with T-Mobile or exempt the deal from an official review.
Sprint spokesman John Taylor suggested the company would ask additional states to review the deal as AT&T sought further approvals from state commissions. “We feel very strongly that approval of the transaction is not in the best interest of consumers in West Virginia,” Taylor said.
AT&T issued a terse rebuttal to Sprint’s filing that criticized Sprint’s mobile broadband strategy in the state – AT&T plans to launch LTE in West Virginia, but Sprint’s WiMAX plans in the state are currently on hold as it waits for Clearwire to expand its network.
“We hope state officials will ask Sprint what its own plans are for bringing LTE speeds to the people of West Virginia. We suspect Sprint either has no such plan, or that its own plans pale in comparison to AT&T’s,” said Michael Schweder, AT&T’s president of its mid-Atlantic region, in a post on the company’s public policy blog. “In either case, we’re confident West Virginians will see Sprint’s filing for what it is – a cynical effort to hurt a competitor, even if the ones truly hurt are the many people of West Virginia who would be denied the fast mobile Internet speeds they need and want.”
Update: Taylor responded to the “cynical” comment with this: “What is AT&T afraid of in West Virginia? All Sprint has asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission to do is to hold a public hearing about their planned takeover of T-Mobile. Is AT&T afraid of what such a hearing would uncover?”
AT&T reportedly plans to file paperwork in about six other states asking commissions to approve its acquisition of T-Mobile. The company may choose to file for approval with state commissioners to avoid raising additional ire over its merger with T-Mobile since its obligation to do so under state law is somewhat ambiguous
Some states prohibit their commissioners from reviewing transactions like AT&T’s buyout of T-Mobile, but laws differ in other states.
Other states require telephone service providers to get approval from the state’s public utilities commissioner before a merger can go through, but since many of those laws were written before the creation of the wireless industry, states’ jurisdiction over deals like AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile is uncertain.
Verizon, for its part, reportedly did not ask West Virginia’s Public Service Commission for approval when working to close its merger with Alltel in 2008.