updated 08:15 pm EDT, Thu August 11, 2011
ATT hires banks to sell 8b of assets for merger
AT&T is anticipating that it might have to sell as much as $8 billion or more of its network to get regulatory approval for its buyout of T-Mobile, sources said Thursday night. The carrier has tapped Bank of America Merrill Lynch to help court potential buyers for the regions it might need to divest with the assumption that the sales could top the estimated figure. The WSJ's insiders were told most of the selloff would come from T-Mobile's side, although AT&T could sell some of its own.
No actual selling would come until closer to the early 2012 approval of the deal.
AT&T wouldn't confirm the specifics, but it said that it had always said it was prepared to sell some assets to get the $39 billion deal through.
The carrier has repeatedly tried to convey a sense of urgency for the deal that hasn't persuaded critics. It insists that buying T-Mobile and reducing the number of major carriers is necessary to overcome a purported spectrum crunch. A merger was also supposedly vital to getting LTE-based 4G to 97 percent of the population where it might stop at 80 percent otherwise.
Opponents, most of all Sprint and other smaller carriers, have said that no amount of asset sales would solve the anti-competitive problems with the takeover. They contend that it would still give AT&T a clear majority of the cellphone market and make it much harder to attract customers and land deals for better phones.
The FCC hasn't shown its hand on how likely it is to either approve or block the deal, though most assume that even an approval would come with some conditions. The Senate's antitrust lead and Senator Al Franken have opposed the deal along with genuine public advocacy groups. Advocates in favor of the deal have been called into question, since they involve a combination of groups that have received AT&T contributions and politicians that have been the main targets of even more intensive AT&T lobbying than usual.