It’s official. AT&T today said it is withdrawing its bid to acquire T-Mobile USA—a deal that was widely considered to be all but dead since Thanksgiving week, when the FCC declined to approve the deal, even with conditions.
In an announcement issued today, AT&T attempted to refute the idea that the merger would be anti-competitive, noting that the U.S. wireless industry “is one of the most fiercely competitive industries in the world.” The company cautioned, however, that the U.S. has “a mounting need for more spectrum that has not diminished and must be addressed immediately.”
AT&T has invested more in its networks over the past four years than any other U.S. company, said AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson in the announcement, also noting that “AT&T will continue to be aggressive in leading the mobile Internet revolution.”
Stephenson said AT&T will continue to invest to meet the needs of its consumers. But he added that “adding capacity to meet these needs will require policymakers to do two things.”
In an apparent reference to legislation aimed at freeing up spectrum through a voluntary incentive auction, Stephenson advised policymakers to “enact legislation to meet our nation’s longer-term spectrum needs.”
To address shorter-term spectrum requirements, Stephenson urged policymakers to “expeditiously” approve AT&T’s acquisition of unused Qualcomm spectrum. That purchase was originally proposed nearly a year ago to the day. But approval of that deal has been in limbo since March, when AT&T announced its plan to acquire T-Mobile.
Today’s announcement said nothing about AT&T’s widely touted claim that the T-Mobile merger would enable the company to build out its 4G LTE network to 97% of the U.S., but that without adding T-Mobile, the company would only be able to reach 80% of the U.S. That claim was widely disputed by merger opponents.
For the sake of rural residents who would like to have 4G, hopefully AT&T will build out beyond the 80% threshold—and in the event that such an event may indeed occur, perhaps the carrier felt it better not to bring up that topic in today’s announcement.
The collapsed deal means that AT&T is required to pay T-Mobile’s owner Deutsche Telekom a $4 billion break-up fee—and DT shouldn’t have any trouble collecting, as AT&T already said during the Thanksgiving week drama that it would record a one-time cost of $4 billion to reflect the risk that the deal would collapse. On the plus side for both would-be merger partners, AT&T and DT have agreed to a “mutually beneficial roaming agreement,” today’s announcement said.