The Federal Communications Commission has approved AT&T's acquisition of Leap Wireless, the company that operates the popular Cricket brand of prepaid wireless service. Acknowledging that an unchecked deal could've harmed the public interest, the FCC says concessions and commitments made by AT&T have effectively counterbalanced any major concerns. Many of them focus on south Texas and southwestern markets where Cricket holds a strong footprint. "We find that the public interest benefits of the proposed transaction outweigh the likelihood of significant public interest harms, such that overall, the proposed transaction is in the public interest," the commission said.
We've gone over what the deal means for consumers previously, but in short, AT&T just picked up 5 million new customers and is expected to use Leap's assets to bolster its network capacity in larger markets. The acquisition also gives AT&T a strong presence in the prepaid market. On the other side, Cricket's customers will gain access to a significantly larger LTE network.
But it didn't come without some negotiating. As part of the deal, AT&T has agreed to divest spectrum in certain markets. The second-largest US carrier will also deploy LTE service using unused Leap spectrum "within 90 days or 12 months of closing." And since Cricket was a popular choice for consumers seeking a cheap way into mobile service, AT&T has agreed "to offer certain rate plans targeted to help value-conscious and Lifeline customers." The FCC says these and other commitments ensure AT&T will have "every incentive to provide higher quality service" after scooping up Leap. The approval also calls for AT&T to provide the commission with quarterly reports on the status of its commitments (included below) and the migration of Leap’s customers.
- Spectrum divestitures in certain markets, which will help ensure that AT&T’s competitors have access to spectrum.
- Deploy LTE service using unused Leap spectrum within 90 days or 12 months of closing, which will ensure that that spectrum is being deployed and that consumers in the current Leap service areas will benefit from network improvements to AT&T’s advanced 4G network technologies.
- Build out LTE service in six specific markets in south Texas within 18 months, which will ensure that consumers in those markets have access to advanced 4G services.
- Offer certain rate plans targeted to help value-conscious and Lifeline customers.
- Offer a device trade-in credit program and a feature phone device trade-in program to certain Leap customers prior to discontinuing CDMA service in a particular area in order to ensure that Leap customers have future access to wireless service.
- Honor existing CDMA roaming agreements that AT&T is assuming from Leap so long as it operates the CDMA network.