AT&T’s legal team probably didn’t have too restful a weekend. On Friday afternoon, the legal firm accidentally posted a partially redacted letter to the FCC revealing the original cost of its planned LTE build-out at $3.8 billion. That’s quite a difference from the $39 billion it would cost to achieve the same goal through a T-Mo acquisition, and many found the revelation incredibly suspect, enough so to possibly derail the merger. And if that wasn’t enough to start out the weekend, AT&T then had to file eight federal suits to keep a law firm from blocking the deal through arbitration.
According to AllThingsD, Bursor & Fisher law firm has been planning an attack on the merger for quite a while, with a website dedicated to arguing its case and recruiting AT&T customers to join the fight. Citing the Clayton Antitrust Act, the firm argues that individual parties who may be adversely affected by the merger have the right to sue to stop it from happening.
AT&T’s terms of service block customers from bringing class-action suits upon the carrier, but arbitration is allowed, and expenses are covered by AT&T. This is where Bursor & Fisher believe they’ll win. “If we bring 100 cases and we lose 99 of them we are going to win,” attorney Scott Bursor said in an interview. “We just need one arbitrator to say, ‘Wait a minute, this merger is going to hurt competition.’”
The firm has filed arbitration cases in eight different U.S. jurisdictions. AT&T has filed back in all eight of them, and responded with a statement citing the arbitration clause in its contract:
“This merger will provide tremendous benefits for customers and unleash billions of dollars in badly needed investment, creating many thousands of well-paying jobs that are vitally needed given our weakened economy — a fact that’s been recognized by consumers, public officials, and groups of all types. However, the bottom line here is an arbitrator has no authority to block the merger or affect the merger process in any way. AT&T’s arbitration agreement with our customers — recently upheld by the Supreme Court — allows individual relief for individual claims. Bursor & Fisher is seeking class-wide relief wrapped in the guise of individual arbitration proceedings, which is specifically prohibited by AT&T;s arbitration agreement. Accordingly, the claims are completely without merit. We have filed suit in order to stop this abusive action.”
So in other words, Bursor & Fisher have rounded up more than 1,000 AT&T customers to fight the deal. Though the firm plans to move forward with each case individually, AT&T has a point when it says that the firm is trying to bring relief to an entire class of people, rather than individuals.
But no matter how this turns out, one thing is very clear: AT&T’s fight for T-Mobile is far from over.