While AT&T Chief Randall Stephenson strongly defended his company's proposed merger with T-Mobile USA at a Senate hearing Wednesday, he did signal some areas where he's willing to deal.
During the hearing, Cellular South CEO Victor Meena complained that smaller carriers have been unable to reach data roaming agreements with AT&T.
While the Federal Communications Commission approved rules last month requiring firms to reach data roaming agreements on reasonable terms, Meena said he has seen little progress on the issue. Such roaming agreements ensure consumers can access the Internet, text and send data when they leave their wireless company's network area.
Subcommittee ranking member Mike Lee, R-Utah, pressed Stephenson on whether he would offer data roaming deals to smaller carriers like Meena's at reasonable rates.
"Absolutely, that's the law," Stephenson replied, and offered to meet with Meena after the hearing to discuss his specific concerns.
When questioned by subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., Stephenson also agreed that his company would not accept any money from the Universal Service Fund to help expand its wireless broadband offerings. The fund has traditionally subsidized telephone service in rural and high-cost areas but the FCC is revamping it to include support for broadband service.
Lee also noted that many AT&T and T-Mobile workers are concerned about possible job losses as a result of the merger.
While he didn't say there would be no job losses, Stephenson said that in past mergers he has worked with the Communications Workers of America, which has 42,000 unionized members at AT&T wireless, to try to find jobs elsewhere in the new company for workers whose jobs are cut.
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