By JOELLE TESSLER
WASHINGTON (AP) -- AT&T Inc. is pledging to bring 5,000 wireless call center jobs, currently based abroad, back to the U.S. if it is allowed to proceed with its proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA.
The company is also promising that the merger would not result in any job losses for AT&T and T-Mobile USA wireless call center employees who are on the payroll in the U.S. when the deal closes.
AT&T's commitment to repatriate jobs comes as antitrust regulators at the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department ramp up their reviews of a combination that is certain to reshape the wireless industry's landscape.
AT&T, the nation's second-largest wireless carrier, is seeking government approval to buy T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest, from Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG. The cash-and-stock transaction would catapult AT&T past Verizon Wireless to become the nation's largest wireless provider, and leave Sprint Nextel Corp. as a distant number three.
Although AT&T said it has not yet determined where the new U.S.-based jobs would be located, it promised they would offer "highly competitive wages and benefits." The company hopes this message will carry weight in Washington, where job creation is a top priority for the Obama administration as the nation faces the possibility of a recession heading into the 2012 election.
"At a time when many Americans are struggling and our economy faces significant challenges, we're pleased that the T-Mobile merger allows us to bring 5,000 jobs back to the United States and significantly increase our investment here," AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said in a statement.
Beyond the call center operations, AT&T has said it does anticipate some workforce duplication after the deal closes, but expects to make reductions largely through natural attrition.
Opponents of the proposed merger, including public interest groups and Sprint, insist it will lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers by eliminating a carrier that offers lower rates and less expensive plans than competitors. They also fear the deal could jeopardize Sprint's future as an independent company and ultimately lead to a wireless industry duopoly.
AT&T and T-Mobile argue that the acquisition would benefit consumers. They say it would lead to fewer dropped and blocked calls and faster mobile Internet connections for subscribers by allowing the companies to combine their limited wireless spectrum holdings at a time when both are running out of airwaves to handle mobile apps, online video and other bandwidth-hungry services.
They also say the transaction would position AT&T to cover more than 97 percent of the U.S. population with its new high-speed, fourth-generation wireless service.
Finding more airwaves to keep up with the explosive growth of wireless broadband services and ensuring that all Americans have access to high-speed Internet connections are both top priorities of the FCC and the Obama administration.
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