AT&T says it doesn't need FCC's approval to withdraw merger request

A day after AT&T Inc. filed to withdraw its request to the Federal Communications Commission to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion, the company said it didn't need the FCC's permission to back out of the application.

"We have every right to withdraw our merger from the FCC, and the FCC has no right to stop us," Wayne Watts, AT&T's general counsel, said in a statement Friday. "Any suggestion the agency might do otherwise would be an abuse of procedure, which we would immediately challenge in court."

AT&T and T-Mobile both withdrew their merger applications from the FCC, and an agency spokeswoman told The Times on Thursday that the agency would "consider the request."

Consumer advocacy groups including Public Knowledge suggested that the FCC had several options available regarding AT&T's withdrawal request.

The FCC could dismiss the application "with prejudice," effectively barring AT&T from submitting the approval request later. The agency also could elect to send the case to its own administrative law judge, allowing the judge to rule on the withdrawal request. Or the FCC could simply grant the withdrawal, said Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge.

He and others have suggested that AT&T is withdrawing its request to prevent publication of documents that would reveal "reams of information not only about AT&T and T-Mobile but about the state of the telecom industry that those and other companies might not want to be made public."

Still, AT&T said the suggestion that it needed permission to pull its application "is not accurate."

"The FCC's own rules give us this right and provide that the FCC 'will' grant any such withdrawal," Watts' statement said. "Further, this has been the FCC's own consistent interpretation of its rules."

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