Besides lobbying for a continued separation of two of the top four wireless networks in the nation, Hesse has gone the extra mile -- a few times over:
- Step 1: Hire high-octane law firm Skadden Arps to help him plead his case.
- Step 2: Go on a whirlwind lobbying tour -- including an appearance before Congress.
- Step 3: Whip up a 377-page dissent to file with the Federal Communications Commission.
- Step 4: Get his own engineers to explain how AT&T's network could perform quite well without adding T-Mobile's radio spectrum.
- Step 5 (and this is a biggie): Lean on as many as 18 state regulators to examine the deal, thereby slowing down or stopping progress altogether.
Sprint has also asked the FCC to combine its review of the AT&T-Mobile deal with Ma Bell's proposed purchase of a bunch of bandwidth blocks across the country, which would relieve Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) and Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN ) of unused radio licenses.
It all adds up to a huge filibuster campaign with the implicit hope that a stalled deal might be a dead deal. In Sprint's view, a combination of T-Mobile and AT&T would reduce the competitive landscape to colossuses AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) slugging it out far above Sprint and a gaggle of regional providers, leaving little room for innovation and consumer choice.
I happen to agree that the proposed merger would be bad for consumers. In the end, Sprint would have to sell itself to Verizon or start rolling up smaller networks to create a semi-credible competitor to the leading duo, and it'd still be an unfair fight. "Sprint's message is not one to be ignored," said former antitrust counsel Chris Sprigman in an interview with Bloomberg. "This merger is very likely to harm competition."
That said, Hesse and I are fighting an uphill battle here. AT&T has a lot of skin in the game and is unlikely to just roll over and play dead -- the breakup fee for this $39 billion megadeal is a heart-stopping $6 billion, according to Reuters.
That would be terrible news for AT&T shareholders, obviously, but at the risk of sounding like a free-range liberal: That could be the best possible outcome for American consumers and the wireless marketplace as a whole. Distribute that many extra resources from one of the top players to number four, and you've rebalanced the whole landscape.
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