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By Paul Barbagallo
The public interest group Public Knowledge urged the Federal Communications Commission in an Oct. 4 letter to allow outside parties to the AT&T Inc./T-Mobile USA Inc. merger proceeding to challenge the confidentiality of the data submitted, claiming the two companies have put “far more information than is proper behind a cloak of secrecy.”
In the letter, Public Knowledge Legal Director Harold Feld noted how, in August, AT&T inadvertently revealed publicly that it had estimated the costs of expanding the deployment of 4G (fourth generation) LTE (long-term evolution) mobile broadband services from 80 percent of the U.S. population to 97.3 percent of the population at $ 3.8 billion—about a tenth of the cost of the proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile.
AT&T disclosed the $3.8 billion figure in an unredacted filing, which was later removed from the FCC's website.
AT&T had revealed in the filing that prior to the announcement of the merger in March, company officials had considered expanding 4G LTE services to cover 97 percent of the U.S. population and ultimately rejected the idea, because doing so would have required nearly tripling the land mass covered—from less than 20 percent to about 55 percent—and would cost the company nearly twice as much per “covered person” in capital expenditures (165 DER A-7, 8/25/11).
“While none of this is news to people who have had access to the confidential record, its public disclosure marked a turning point in stories about the merger by exposing AT&T's arguments as self-serving justifications for a merger whose true purpose is to cement AT&T's wireless dominance,” Feld wrote. “Information of the kind that AT&T accidentally disclosed should never have been secret to begin with.”
In the letter, the group asked the agency to require that AT&T release all economic and engineering models and provide a justification for all the data the companies believe should be kept under Protective Order.
In a statement, AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said that, in reviewing transactions, the FCC routinely requires parties to submit highly confidential and competitively-sensitive information, subject to Protective Orders.
“The [orders] entered in this case permit Public Knowledge full access to all materials submitted by the parties for purposes of participating in the proceeding,” he added. “AT&T's confidential designations are fully consistent with the letter and spirit of these Protective Orders and standard regulatory practice. Public Knowledge's desire to use this confidential information publicly would be contrary to the FCC's Protective Orders and an abuse of this process.”
For Public Knowledge's letter, visit http://www.publicknowledge.org/files/docs/pk_confidentiality_letter.pdf
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