AT&T speaks up about Sprint/SoftBank deal

The US carrier is concerned about who will control majority of wireless

Even though a deal for Japanese telecom, SoftBank, to acquire a majority control of Sprint is still a long way from being finalized, AT&T is eager to talk about the matter.

AT&T's vice president of media relations, Brad Burns, sent out a statement today concerning the deal:

"SoftBank's acquisition of Sprint and the control it gains over Clearwire will give one of Japan's largest wireless companies control of significantly more U.S. wireless spectrum than any other company. We expect that fact and others will be fully explored in the regulatory review process.

"This is one more example of a very dynamic and competitive U.S. wireless marketplace, which is an important fact for U.S. regulators to recognize."

Not the most bombastic statement, so the internet cryptographers have been busy reading the subtext of Burns' message.

AT&T's many moods

AT&T could react to the deal in a few ways if regulators approve it. AT&T may object to the deal since it would give a huge amount of cellular spectrum to a foreign company.

It's generally illegal for foreign entities to control any U.S. spectrum.

However, there is a 1934 Communications Act loophole that allows foreign agencies to establish a domestic holdings company to keep the licenses. That is why Deutsche Telekom is able to own T-Mobile USA.

A second reaction would be to use the deal's approval as a precedent for future deals, maybe to purchase another company or more spectrum.

Only last year, AT&T abandoned a deal to acquire T-Mobile from DT amid objections from the Federal Communications Commission because the deal would weaken U.S. competition.

But if SoftBank gets a majority stake of Sprint, AT&T might use the powerful new competition as an excuse to try and buy T-Mobile again. But AT&T's intentions aren't too clear at the moment.

AT&T tells the FCC to stay out of the way

What is a bit easier to see is AT&T signaling to the FCC to use a light hand when it comes to the deal.

When Burns remarked about the dynamic and competitive nature of the U.S. marketplace, he was telling the FCC to let the market work out the deal without intervention.

Rumors of the Japanese carrier attempting to buy Sprint surfaced just last week and were quickly confirmed.

The $20.1 billion deal will give SoftBank a 70 percent controlling stake in Sprint, giving it full control over the third-place U.S. carrier.

But even though there has been a lot of hoopla about the acquisition already, both companies expect the deal won't be closed until the end of 2013. And that's if they are able to get the move cleared by U.S. regulators.

Via The Verge