Estimated costs for expanding AT&T’s long-term evolution (LTE) network, disclosed by AT&T in an FCC filing last Thursday, have raised eyebrows among opponents of the AT&T/T-Mobile USA merger who assert that the projected $3.8 billion price tag refutes AT&T’s claim that its proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile is needed to expand LTE services to 97% of the U.S. population. In previous public pronouncements concerning its merger with T-Mobile, AT&T has said that, without the proposed acquisition, it would only be able to expand its LTE network to 80% of the U.S. population. In last Thursday’s filing, AT&T revealed that, prior to the merger announcement in March, company executives were unable to come up with a business case for expanding LTE to 97% of the population because the project would have required AT&T to triple its land mass coverage from 20% to 55%. AT&T further explained that the resulting costs would have been “nearly twice as much per covered person in capital expenditures.” The company noted, however, that its business case for pursuing LTE expansion was changed by certain benefits accruing from its proposed merger with T-Mobile that include “incremental reductions in cost due to the addition of T-Mobile USA resources, greater scale economies . . . a larger customer base, and the expectation of a higher take-rate for AT&T’s LTE service.” As such, AT&T told the FCC: “for all of these reasons, AT&T’s management concluded that, because the merger with T-Mobile USA results in greater revenues, customers, and overall scale, AT&T could better absorb the increased capital investment and lower returns associated with deploying LTE to over 97% of the U.S. population.” (Because sensitive portions of its filing were not properly redacted, AT&T has since withdrawn the FCC document in question.) Adding, “T-Mobile’s network adds practically nothing to AT&T’s coverage footprint,” Rural Telecommunications Group executive director Tanya Sullivan said, “this information confirms what many consumers and savvy legislators suspected, and that is if AT&T wanted to build out LTE to 97% of the country’s population, it can do so today without buying T-Mobile and removing it as a 4G competitor.”