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Justice Dept. Staffers Warn T-Mobile/Sprint Merger Unlikely to Win Approval as Structured

Justice Department staffers have told T-Mobile and Sprint that their $26 billion merger is unlikely to win approval as presently structured, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Unnamed sources familiar with the deal told the newspaper the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division is among the most skeptical of those reviewing the deal, questioning claims from the companies that the merger will create synergy and increased efficiency that could free up resources to dramatically expand the combined company’s wireless business.

At the core of the concern is the impact of combining the nation’s third and fourth largest wireless carriers, reducing competition to just three national postpaid companies — AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile. That could present an unacceptable threat to competition.

The Justice Department is not alone expressing concern over the merger deal. Multiple state attorneys general are still reviewing the deal and several have announced they are prepared to sue the companies involved to stop the merger if it manages to win approval on the federal level. The Federal Communications Commission is also said to be questioning some of the claims of the company about the merits of its promised 5G home broadband service and exactly how much consumers could save should they subscribe.

The Financial Times also published a story this afternoon essentially confirming the Journal story.

John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA, denied the premise of the Journal’s story in a tweet late this afternoon, calling it “simply untrue,” but refused further comment.

Any decision about the merger is not expected for several weeks, and any recommendations from the staff report on the deal can be overruled by the political appointees that run the Justice Department. The Times reports that the final decision will likely rest with Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s pick as chief of the antitrust division. With staff objections now leaked to the press, Delrahim could be in a politically difficult situation overruling his staff’s recommendations. In the meantime, company officials can offer concessions, such as selling off certain assets to overcome regulator objections.

Many Wall Street analysts feel the chances of the merger winning approval are reduced the longer the merger review remains underway in Washington. Many have placed the odds at less than 50% that the deal will ultimately be approved. If it is rejected, T-Mobile is expected to continue its business without any significant financial hurdles. Sprint may be a different matter, as its Japanese backer SoftBank has soured on the merits of pouring additional money into Sprint’s wireless business.

White House Refuses to Turn Over Documents on AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Phillip Dampier April 16, 2019 AT&T, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

(Reuters) – The White House has told two U.S. House Democrats it will not turn over documents that could show whether Republican President Donald Trump sought to intervene in the regulatory review of AT&T Inc’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc.

In March, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Representative David Cicilline, who chairs a panel overseeing antitrust issues, asked the White House and Justice Department to turn over records after The New Yorker magazine reported Trump directed then-National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to use the Justice Department to block the deal.

The pair wrote that if accurate, Trump’s involvement would “constitute a grave abuse of power.” In February, a federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling rejecting a Justice Department challenge to the deal filed in November 2017.

Trump criticized the deal as a candidate in late 2016, saying it would concentrate too much media power in the hands of one owner, and later saying it would raise prices. He has also frequently attacked CNN, a Time Warner property now owned by AT&T, for what he sees as negative coverage of his campaign and administration.

In a letter dated Monday and released on Tuesday by Cicilline, White House counsel Pat Cipollone declined to release any documents, saying he would not provide “protected communications between the president and his senior advisers that are the very core of the executive branch’s confidentiality interests.”

Cipollone added that the Justice Department would be responding “in due course.”

The two Democrats responded in a joint statement that “the White House Counsel has made a blanket claim that all White House communications — regardless of whether they contain evidence of improper or even unlawful activities — are protected by a cone of secrecy,” adding they would “pursue this matter.”

Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said in a 2018 declaration he had never received “orders, instructions, or directions relating” to the AT&T-Time Warner deal from Trump, Justice Department officials or White House officials.

The Justice Department said in February it would not seek further appeals to block the merger.

In February 2018, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon rejected AT&T’s request to see White House communications that might shed light on whether Trump pressured the Justice Department to try to block the deal.

AT&T lawyers said last year the deal may have been singled out for enforcement, citing as evidence statements by Trump as a candidate and as president that the deal was bad for consumers and the country. AT&T declined comment on Tuesday.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney

Cable War: Ohio Man Allegedly Cuts AT&T Lines That Cross His Property

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

The phone line was allegedly cut by a neighbor. (Image: WEWS-TV)

A suburban Cleveland, Ohio man allegedly cut an AT&T line that crossed his property and refused to allow repair crews to repair the damage, claiming they were disrespectful and “didn’t have no class.”

The cable cut left Newburgh Heights resident and AT&T customer Willie Griffin without phone, internet, or cable service for over a week, and set the stage for a neighborhood dispute that eventually brought police to the scene.

A reporter from WEWS-TV in Cleveland achieved a breakthrough after calm negotiations with Ron Quinones, who eventually allowed AT&T crews to restore phone and internet service.

“I never ever, ever experienced anything like this, I just can’t believe that this happening,” Griffin told News 5. “He told the AT&T guy, that yes he cut the line, and that he’s going to cut my neighbor’s line, and any line that’s running though his yard.”

A police report claimed Quinones admitted to officers he intentionally caused the damage, and told police he was advised to do it by an unidentified utility worker.

“[Quinones] said that he complained to another worker about the [leaning utility pole] and all the wires coming off of it and hanging too low to the ground,” the police report states. “The utility worker said that the fastest way to get it fixed would be if [Quinones] cut them because then they would have to come fix them.”

When AT&T crews initially arrived to repair the lines instead of replacing the utility pole, Quinones would not allow them on his property, claiming he feared for their safety and the safety of his garage. The utility pole owner, FirstEnergy, later conducted a full inspection and denied the pole was unsafe.

The cut cable was located at Griffin’s home where AT&T’s network interface box connected the overhead line with the home’s inside wiring. AT&T crews sought to replace the overhead drop line from the utility pole to Griffin’s home, which initially caused Quinones to object because the utility pole serving her home is behind his. After the dispute attracted coverage from Cleveland’s ABC affiliate, Quinones relented.

“If the cable goes through and he can get it up there without damaging my property, I don’t have a problem with it,” Quinones told the station.

No charges appeared to be filed and the only formal rebuke seems to be a warning from both Newburgh Heights police and FirstEnergy advising residents that tampering with utility lines was unsafe and could result in criminal charges.

WEWS in Cleveland found itself mediating a neighborhood dispute over a cut AT&T line. (1:52)

AT&T Fiber Buildout Could Steal Two Million Charter and Comcast Customers

As AT&T continues to build out its fiber to the home network in its landline service areas, the company estimates it could achieve 50% market penetration by 2023, triggering a growing wave of consumers dropping cable in search of a better deal.

Cowen, a research firm, issued a report to clients indicating if AT&T achieves its expansion goals, it will be a tough competitor to Comcast and Charter.

Both cable companies have pulled back on promotional and customer retention pricing in recent years, allowing customers to follow through on threats to disconnect service. AT&T Fiber is expected to be a frequent destination for those unhappy cable customers. As AT&T’s fiber network expands, it could eventually grab one million customers each from Comcast and Charter, as well as another 200,000 cancelling service with Altice’s Suddenlink.

If the estimates prove accurate, the costs to earnings will be considerable — Comcast will lose around $1.1 billion, Charter $885 million, and Altice $162 million.

AT&T claims it has expanded fiber to the home service to three million homes each of the last two years. It plans to continue expanding fiber buildouts for an additional three years, wiring up communities where a return on investment can be achieved.

To stem customer losses, the cable industry will likely have to relent on pricing and promotions in areas where AT&T Fiber already provides competitive service.

The cable industry has enjoyed a strong speed advantage over most phone companies for the last few years as nearly 100% of cable operators now offer gigabit download speed. In contrast, phone companies are offering gigabit speed in only about 25% of their footprint, with many telco service areas still stuck with low-speed DSL, often unable to achieve the FCC’s minimum broadband speed of 25 Mbps.

FTC Launches Investigation of ISP Privacy Policies

Phillip Dampier March 27, 2019 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

(Image by Brad Jonas originally for Pando.com)

The Federal Trade Commission has sent compulsory questionnaires to seven of the nation’s largest cable, phone, and wireless companies as it opens an examination of internet service provider privacy practices.

The orders were sent to: AT&T, AT&T Mobility, Comcast/Xfinity, Google Fiber, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Verizon Wireless.

“The FTC is initiating this study to better understand internet service providers’ privacy practices in light of the evolution of telecommunications companies into vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content,” the FTC wrote in a press release. “Under current law, the FTC has the ability to enforce against unfair and deceptive practices involving internet service providers.”

The FTC wants details about:

  • The categories of personal information collected about consumers or their devices, including the purpose for which the information is collected or used; the techniques for collecting such information; whether the information collected is shared with third parties; internal policies for access to such data; and how long the information is retained;
  • Whether the information is aggregated, anonymized or deidentified;
  • Copies of the companies’ notices and disclosures to consumers about their data collection practices;
  • Whether the companies offer consumers choices about the collection, retention, use and disclosure of personal information, and whether the companies have denied or degraded service to consumers who decline to opt-in to data collection; and
  • Procedures and processes for allowing consumers to access, correct, or delete their personal information.

While Congress has been focused on privacy issues affecting social media, the FTC is concerned that telecommunications companies may be collecting vast amounts of information from customers that could be sold or shared with partner companies. The agency wants to get a better understanding of exactly what kinds of information is being collected and how it is being used, especially as telecom companies acquire content companies which could use that information to display targeted online advertising.

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