State Officials Support AT&T Merger

A Louisiana regulatory board and several state attorneys general have voiced support for the AT&T merger with T-Mobile, as officials continue to weigh in on the $39 billion dollar deal.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission, or PSC, voted 4-1 to approve the merger, and in a separate measure, the attorneys general from several states wrote to the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission in support of the merger.

The attorneys general, from Arkansas, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming all said they believe the merger will bring better service and faster data speeds to their states. All the states involved have large rural areas that may benefit by access to faster data access, and AT&T maintains the merger could bring high speed access to 97 per cent of the U.S.

Even though they are for the deal, the attorneys general asked for conditions to protect competition. Merger opponents say the deal will put nearly 90 per cent of the nation’s cell phone business with AT&T and Verizon, leaving Sprint behind in a distant third place, from where it will have difficulty competing.

The Louisiana affirmation may also reflect the state’s hopes for financial gain from the merger. AT&T says the deal will bring at least $8 billion in investments and the Louisiana PSC said some of that money may come to their state. The state may benefit with increased rural broadband and new jobs too, said the PSC.

The proposed deal, which is being reviewed by the FCC, may get a boost from Louisiana’s support. Even though final approval rests with the FCC, states may make the deal either easier or more difficult to seal. States can file antitrust lawsuits if the FCC votes for it, or they may give the FCC feedback that could influence its decision.

Meanwhile, public service boards in Hawaii, California and West Virginia are still conducting reviews of the merger. If AT&T convinces them that the merger will benefit their states through job creation and improved broadband access, they could vote to support to the plan.

On the other hand, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington this month sent subpoenas to AT&T and Sprint, demanding the companies hand over data revealing customer information that will let them better judge the level of competition in their respective wireless markets. The information released could affect the other states’ public service boards’ decisions.

Wednesday’s actions show there may be a growing trend toward supporting the merger, since according to AT&T, slightly more than half of the nation’s governors support the measure, along with many Congressional leaders.

If other states join advocates like U.S. Senators Al Franken and Herb Kohl, who say they agree with Sprint’s argument that the merger may cause unfair competition, the discussions may grow much more heated, since the FCC’s vote is nearly a year away.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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