AT&T and T-Mobile have taken advantage of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules for protection of information, “putting far more information than is proper behind a cloak of secrecy,” Public Knowledge (PK) told the Commission in a filing today. A copy of the filing is here.
“Again and again, the parties have claimed confidential and highly confidential protection not just for information that would put them at a competitive disadvantage, but for information that is merely embarrassing or contrary to the publicly- articulated justifications for the proposed merger,” PK said, noting that AT&T even withheld its economic models used to justify the takeover of T-Mobile – which prevents the models from being evaluated by outside observers.
PK Legal Director Harold Feld pointed out in his letter how crucial some of the information withheld from the public can be. He noted that while AT&T has said the $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile is the only path to improved 4G coverage in rural areas, a letter filed with the FCC which inadvertently did not take out confidential data showed that the company would need to spend only $3.8 billion to expand coverage, but that there was no business case for doing so.
“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,” PK said, adding: “Information of the kind that AT&T accidentally disclosed should never have been secret to begin with.”
PK recommended that the Commission set up a procedure to allow outside parties to the merger to challenge the confidentiality of data. PK also asked that the FCC: (1) immediately require the public release of AT&T’s economic and engineering models, (2) require that AT&T and T-Mobile provide specific justification for each piece of data they believe can be kept under the protection of the Second Protective Order (or risk having that Order withdrawn), and (3) provide a general justification for all the data they believe can be kept under the Protective Order.
“We expect the Commission to act quickly on our request,” Feld said, adding that “public access to information will be crucial as the debate over the takeover intensifies.”