FCC Chief Recommends Approval of AT&T $49 Billion Buyout of DirecTV
At least a majority of the FCC commissioners must vote to approve the merger, but considering the recent history of party line votes favoring issues supported by Wheeler, approval of this deal appears to be nearly a sure thing and could even be unanimous. At this point it doesn't seem likely that the two Republican members of the Commission will oppose the merger. If the merger is approved it's not clear how soon AT&T will be able to close the deal, although a vote to approve it could come perhaps as early as the FCC's Aug. 6 meeting. However, the timing of the vote is uncertain. The Commissioners may want more time to consider their options, which means the vote may not come until the September meeting. What nobody seems to be talking about right now is another merger between a major wireless carrier and another satellite television service. T-Mobile has reportedly been meeting with Dish Networks to quietly discuss a merger that's similar to the one between AT&T and DirecTV. But there are important differences.Of course, neither T-Mobile nor Dish has any terrestrial broadband assets to improve. But the FCC could to apply conditions similar to those placed on the AT&T buyout of DirecTV on T-Mobile's wireless internet service, which for example could put a crimp into that company's current practice of offering music free of data restrictions. Right now we're waiting to see what happens in regards to the FCC's approval process. It's possible that one of the Commissioners will put forth an alternate proposal for the merger conditions. But such a move is unlikely. The Commissioners discuss what they're going to do well in advance of any public announcement and by the time one of them might actually make such a proposal, some level of consensus on it will have already been reached. Whether T-Mobile and Dish will wait until the FCC votes on the AT&T-DirecTV proposal before announcing their own merger remains to be seen. Both companies are eager to take advantage of the synergies that a merger will bring and it's unlikely that any significant roadblocks will appear once AT&T and DirecTV has been approved. This means that a T-Mobile buyout of Dish isn't so much a question of if as when.
Perhaps the most important difference is that Dish has vast spectrum holdings that have lain fallow for years as Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen has looked for a way to start or buy into a wireless carrier. During his most recent press call on July 14, T-Mobile CEO John Legere made a number of oblique references to the idea that T-Mobile and Dish would make a great pair and more than once he's made it clear how much he'd love to have access to Dish's spectrum holdings.