The proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint has passed muster with the Chairman of the FCC.
But, the two Democratic Commissioners are less than pleased, noting that what’s before the FCC now “is not the same deal the parties filed months ago.”
Ajit Pai today shared with his colleagues a draft Order that would approve, subject to conditions, the proposed merger.
“After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” Pai declared. “Moreover, with the conditions included in this draft Order, the merger will promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market.”
Pai hopes his colleagues will vote to approve it.
Getting the support of Geoffrey Starks won’t be easy.
Via Twitter, the Democrat said, “Sprint/T-Mobile is one of the largest deals ever reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission. What’s before us now is not the same deal the parties filed months ago. To address Department of Justice concerns, the parties made a new deal. I’m surprised the FCC is ignoring past precedent and practice by failing to seek public input.”
He added that Sprint/T-Mobile “will alter the future of wireless service in this country and will impact everyone with a cell phone. I will review the 273-page item carefully. Given its size and scope, and bipartisan litigation pending by State AGs, we shouldn’t rush our ruling without public comment.”
For her part, fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel also used Twitter to voice her concerns.
“Just landed in my in-box: the @FCC’s draft order approving the largest wireless merger in history,” she wrote in the 11am Eastern hour. “I believe we need more competition, not less. I am not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to better outcomes for consumers. But what I am convinced of is that before the FCC votes on this new deal negotiated by Washington, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in and comment. Too much here has been done behind closed doors.”
The Pai-led Commission says FCC staff conducted “a comprehensive review of the proposed transaction, including thousands of pages of pleadings, millions of pages of business documents, and numerous engineering and economic models submitted by the applicants and other commenters.”
It added that staff also conducted independent analyses of the public interest claims of T-Mobile, Sprint, and third parties. Following that review, the transaction team prepared the draft Order circulated by the Chairman today for the Commission’s consideration.
The draft Order explains that the transaction will advance the rapid deployment of a new 5G wireless network, improving the quality of mobile broadband services for American consumers and increasing 5G infrastructure deployment in the United States. Consumers will directly benefit from improvements in network quality and coverage, which in turn will foster innovation in a wide variety of sectors and services (itself creating significant public interest benefits). Moreover, the transaction will help to close the digital divide by bringing robust 5G deep into rural areas, with enforceable conditions in the draft Order requiring coverage of at least 99% of Americans within six years.
The Order also carefully reviews concerns raised in the record as to the competitive effects of the transaction. It concludes that the divestiture of Boost Mobile, along with other conditions, would address the potential for competitive harm from the transaction. While the transaction would increase competition and network quality in many respects, the draft Order concludes that the Boost Mobile divestiture is necessary to ensure that price-sensitive customers in densely-populated areas are not harmed. The draft Order concludes that, as conditioned, the transaction would be in the public interest.
In addition to analyzing the proposed merger, in light of DISH’s planned acquisition of Boost Mobile, the Order also addresses certain extensions, commitments, and modifications to DISH’s spectrum holdings to effectuate its deployment of a nationwide 5G network. The Order finds that DISH’s planned 5G deployment, in connection with its acquisition of Boost, would also be in the public interest. It delegates the associated extensions, commitments, and modifications to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau for processing and implementation in accordance with procedures set forth in the Communications Act and the draft Order.
The T-Mobile-Sprint transaction page is available at https://www.fcc.gov/transaction/t-mobile-sprint.