T-Mobile gives CPUC some insight into post-Sprint merger plans for California, but won’t make it public

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The hundred-plus pages of testimony submitted by three T-Mobile executives to the California Public Utilities Commission sheds a little more light on what the company intends to do in California when – if – it acquires Sprint and spins off customers, employees and assets to DISH. But most of the specific plans for California submitted to the CPUC last week were filed confidentially.

Chief operating officer Michael Sievert toned down the company’s weasel words about T-Mobile and Sprint workers in California, saying that the number of employees three years after the merger closes will be “equal to, or greater than” the current T-Mobile and Sprint total, even taking into account employees who might be transferred to DISH. However, he didn’t reconcile his pledge with another T-Mobile commitment to open a call center in the San Joaquin Valley and staff it up with 1,000 workers. That leaves open the possibility that hundreds of employees, from all over California, will be given a choice between unemployment or moving to Fresno County to begin a new career as a customer service rep.

Chief technical officer Neville Ray’s testimony boils down to we weren’t planning to use Sprint’s 800 MHz spectrum for 5G or much of anything else, so nothing changed. He also discusses leasing 600 MHz spectrum from DISH – T-Mobile has an option to do so but, according to Ray, hasn’t decided whether or to what extent to exercise it. If T-Mobile did lease that spectrum, though, it would mean cash flowing back to DISH and, presumably, less pressure to do something with it before the Federal Communications Commission takes it back.

In other words, T-Mobile’s option might result in a significant financial benefit to DISH, that could offset some of the financial penalties it might incur if it doesn’t meet its obligations to build out a competitive 5G network. Given DISH’s history of spectrum dealing, there’s reason to question the settlement’s fundamental premise that a new, facilities-based mobile broadband network will result. The lower the net cost of walking away, the less incentive DISH has to meet its nominal commitments.

Ray also submitted California-specific information about T-Mobile’s 5G deployment and service plans, mirroring the national level information given to the FCC. But unlike the national data, T-Mobile wants to keep its promises to California secret. Those could become public as the CPUC review moves ahead, but there’s no particular reason at this point to think they will.

The filing made by executive vice president Thomas Keys made minor updates to his previous testimony, but wasn’t particularly enlightening.

Opponents of the merger have two weeks to digest T-Mobile’s testimony and respond. The CPUC public advocates office’s quest for more information from DISH is running in parallel. Opponents could similarly ask T-Mobile to provide additional data and/or ask for more time to review it all, but at this point the case is still on a trajectory for a final decision in February 2020.

Links to the stack of arguments and exhibits everyone has filed are here.

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