T-Mobile seeks roaming concessions in AT&T's purchase of Plateau Wireless

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is asking the FCC to require AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) to honor T-Mobile's existing roaming agreement with Plateau Wireless in the Southwestern United States. AT&T is in the process of acquiring Plateau Wireless, and T-Mobile has warned that AT&T will increase T-Mobile's roaming costs in the area unless the FCC steps in.

T-Mobile said it has enjoyed a longstanding roaming agreement with Plateau Wireless, which offers wireless service across eastern New Mexico and West Texas. T-Mobile told the FCC that, if AT&T successfully purchases Plateau, "the Plateau system would be integrated into AT&T's network, subjecting T-Mobile to AT&T's less favorable roaming practices in the Plateau service area."

T-Mobile continued: "AT&T continues to use its market position to only offer roaming arrangements that raise T-Mobile's costs and degrade its customers' experience, harming competition. In this transaction, it will mean T-Mobile will lose its ability to have its customers roam in only the limited geographic area covered by its roaming agreement with Plateau, resulting in either significant and unnecessary home roaming by T-Mobile or the complete denial of T-Mobile's ability to roam in the areas covered by the Plateau agreement. As a result, T-Mobile's customers may lose coverage or full system capabilities in the parts of the Plateau coverage area where they could formerly roam."

For its part, AT&T is urging the FCC to approve its purchase of Plateau. AT&T in June 2014 said it would purchase 40,000 customers, a handful of spectrum licenses and "related operations and assets" of Plateau Wireless. As a result of the transaction, Plateau said it would exit the wireless business. AT&T had hoped to close the transaction in the second half of last year.

The disagreement between T-Mobile and AT&T on Plateau is part of a wider battle between the two carriers over roaming. Last year, T-Mobile asked the FCC to provide guidance on what exactly constitutes a "commercially reasonable" data roaming agreement, an effort to get the agency to clarify its initial roaming order from 2011. AT&T and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) stood against T-Mobile on the issue, arguing the FCC should not get involved in the details of roaming agreements.

Late last year, the FCC disagreed with Verizon and AT&T's arguments and decided to grant T-Mobile's petition. In its ruling, the FCC essentially will provide guidance to carriers about how the FCC will evaluate potential complaints about data roaming agreements in the future.

Thus, T-Mobile appears to be hoping to use its momentum on the issue to retain its more favorable roaming agreement with Plateau as AT&T works to acquire the carrier. "T-Mobile's request would prevent a non-speculative, transaction-specific harm and preserve the status quo, consistent with past Commission practice," T-Mobile told the FCC. "T-Mobile's requested condition would impose no meaningful burden on AT&T and would provide significant benefit to T-Mobile and its customers."

For more:
- see this T-Mobile FCC filing

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