FARGO, N.D. (AP) – An AT&T official says the company’s proposed merger with T-Mobile USA would improve technology in rural areas of the upper Midwest, but some residents and lawmakers remain skeptical.
AT&T’s proposed $39 million purchase of T-Mobile has been criticized by some who say it would limit wireless competition, and federal antitrust clearance is not certain. Federal regulators are expected to spend a year or more scrutinizing the deal between two of the four largest wireless carriers.
Regional vice president Beth Canuteson told The Forum newspaper that if the deal goes through it would help AT&T expand its high-speed data network in less-populated areas.
“It’s where this merger would be especially impactful,” she said of rural states, such as the Dakotas. Canuteson has been traveling to cities including Fargo and Sioux Falls, S.D., to make her pitch.
The broader data reach the communications giant is promising would include near-blanket 4G, or fourth generation, wireless coverage in North Dakota and west central Minnesota, based on AT&T maps, The Forum reported. In North Dakota, an AT&T data network would be a counterbalance to Verizon, said Andy Peterson, president and chief executive officer of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.
“We’d like someone to equal Verizon’s size,” he said. “It would be nice for businesses to have a choice.”
Some believe a merger would give AT&T and Verizon, the top two carriers, too much of the wireless market.
“A merger between AT&T and T-Mobile would not benefit anyone except for AT&T,” Derek Collins, a Grand Forks resident, wrote in comments to the Federal Communications Commission.
Congress is holding hearings on the merger. The first is scheduled for Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, which includes Minnesota’s Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Both have expressed skepticism about the T-Mobile acquisition. Franken, in a statement, said he fears the merger will be a “raw deal” for customers, driving up rates and reducing choice.
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