In a possible setback to AT&T and T-Mobile’s proposed merger, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski Tuesday circulated a draft order to seek a further administrative hearing on the deal, potentially placing another barrier in the road to one of the largest mergers in telecommunications history.
If the order is passed, the merger decision would then go in front of a judge presiding over an administrative hearing on the matter.
The last major merger proposal referred to this type of hearing occurred almost a decade ago, in the case of the proposed DirecTV and EchoStar merger, which was ultimately shot down.
The draft order, created by chairman Genachowski, must be circulated to all of the members of the FCC, who will then decide to sign off on the order, amend it or deny it. The commission gave no time frame on when it would come to a decision.
If the order is approved by the rest of the FCC, the administrative hearing would be another in a line of stumbling blocks for the two companies. In late August, the Department of Justice moved to block the merger by filing a federal antitrust lawsuit, stating the deal would “result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower-quality products for mobile wireless services,” according to deputy attorney general James M. Cole.
Rival telecom Sprint has also lobbied fiercely in opposition to the deal, with CEO Dan Hesse previously arguing the takeover would create “a 1980s-style duopoly,” doing “irreparable harm” to the U.S. economy and consumers as a whole.
Sprint was quick to issue a comment on Tuesday’s decision, lauding chairman Genachowski for his efforts and upholding that the merger “more than justifies moving this matter to an Administrative Law Judge for a hearing,” according to Vonya McCann, Sprint SVP of Government Affairs.
AT&T also issued a statement, essentially condemning Genachowski’s move. “The FCC’s action today is disappointing,” said Larry Solomon, SVP of corporate communications for AT&T. “It is yet another example of a government agency acting to prevent billions in new investment and the creation of many thousands of new jobs at a time when the US economy desperately needs both.”
Although it isn’t clear whether or not all members of the commission will agree upon the statement, any hearings that could take place would not proceed until after litigation between AT&T, T-Mobile and the Department of Justice has concluded.
UPDATED 2:38 P.M. PST with AT&T statement