CPUC takes up T-Mobile/Sprint merger behind closed doors as Thursday’s scheduled vote nears

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The California Public Utilities Commission will hold a rare closed door meeting later this morning to discuss the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The announcement was made on Friday morning, following the Thursday afternoon flurry of filings and weeks of lobbying by supporters and opponents of the deal.

Although the commission is careful to provide proper notice that a closed door “ratesetting deliberative meeting” might be held in this sort of case, it’s unusual. I don’t follow all the action everyday at the commission, so I won’t hazard a guess as to how often they do this, but I can’t recall it ever happening in a proceeding that I’ve been following. On the other hand, the bulk of the CPUC’s business involves utilities, such as energy and water, that I don’t spend a lot of time on and that are more directly involved with true ratesetting processes.

“Ratesetting”, by the way, is used as a catch-all category for matters that don’t fit neatly into the other three types: quasi-legislative, adjudicatory and catastrophic wildfire, the latter being a recent addition to the lexicon. The different types of proceedings run under different rules, particularly where lobbying and other ex parte communications with CPUC decision makers are concerned. The ratesetting procedural rules are, in effect, the default rules.

A closed door meeting provides an opportunity for commissioners to discuss a complicated case ahead of a formal vote. They’re not supposed to come to an agreement, or even a general consensus, regarding the outcome, but they can sort out the issues among themselves – the companies and their friends and foes won’t be there.

A draft decision approving the T-Mobile/Sprint merger with stiff conditions is still on Thursday’s “voting meeting” agenda, but events have overtaken it. The two companies completed their transaction without CPUC permission two weeks ago. T-Mobile said it would abide by an order to not begin merging the operations it acquired in California, but only until Thursday, and it’s threatened to pull back on what it considers to be optional commitments if the case isn’t closed then.

It’s going to be an interesting week.

Links to arguments, exhibits and other paperwork filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.