On the eve of an anticipated FCC decision on AT&T’s planned $1.9 billion acquisition of wireless 700 MHz band licenses held by Qualcomm, Inc., the FCC abruptly halted its merger review, explaining that the transaction raises similar issues that are now being considered by the FCC with respect to AT&T’s proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA. Announced last December, AT&T’s purchase of 700 MHz band licenses that had once been used by Qualcomm in support of the company’s now-defunct FLO TV mobile television service had been intended to supplement video and other fourth-generation (4G) broadband services that AT&T intends to offer to as many as 75 million people by the end of this year. Sources indicate that the FCC’s action on Monday came on the last day of the agency’s informal 180-day clock for reviewing major transactions that commenced when the FCC issued its public notice seeking comment on the AT&T-Qualcomm deal in February. (The spectrum to be sold by Qualcomm—one of the world’s leading makers of wireless chipsets—covers a population of 300 million that includes more than 70 million potential customers in New York, Los Angeles and other top markets nationwide.) Writing to Qualcomm and AT&T, the FCC said its review of the AT&T-Qualcomm and AT&T/T-Mobile deals “has confirmed that the proposed transactions raise a number of related issues, including, but not limited to, questions regarding AT&T’s aggregation of spectrum throughout the nation, particularly in overlapping areas.” As such, the FCC concluded “the best way to determine whether either or both of the proposed transactions serves the public interest is to consider them in a coordinated manner.” By tying review of the AT&T-Qualcomm sale to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, observers predict that the FCC will not hand down its ruling on the AT&T-Qualcomm deal until early 2012 or beyond, thus dashing the parties’ hopes of completing the license transfer by the end of this year. Applauding the FCC’s decision, a spokesman for Free Press—which had joined with several other consumer and public advocacy groups in urging the FCC last April to consider both transactions together—said, “we hope the FCC takes into account the serious harm that will be done to innovation, competition, and consumers by both acquisitions.” Countering, however, that the benefits of the AT&T-Qualcomm deal “stand on their own and are totally unrelated to the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger,” Qualcomm vice president Dean Brenner maintained: “the FCC should approve the pending AT&T-Qualcomm sale now.”