T-Mobile’s California boomerang hits home, Sprint merger decision delayed for months

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Another round of brilliant lawyering by T-Mobile’s crack legal team has pushed back approval (or not) of its acquisition of Sprint by the California Public Utilities Commission until late this year or, maybe, sometime in 2020. Yesterday, CPUC administrative law judge Karl Bemesderfer ruled that the settlement T-Mobile, Sprint and DISH reached with the federal justice department should, as requested, be considered during California’s regulatory review of the merger. But not, as T-Mobile oddly argued, with blind faith in the wisdom of the Trump administration’s anti-trust team.

Bemesderfer said, in effect, yeah, it matters and thanks for mentioning it

A motion “to inform the Commission” of an action by a separate government body is not well-formed, but rather than reject it out of hand I have chosen to interpret it as a motion to re-open the record…

Because the [settlement documents submitted by T-Mobile and Sprint] appear to fundamentally change the Transaction, I agree with [T-Mobile and Sprint] that this proceeding will have a radically incomplete record on which to base a decision unless I re-open the record to admit them. But I also agree with [the CPUC public advocates office and the Communications Workers of America] that if I re-open the record…I must order [T-Mobile and Sprint] to amend the wireless transfer application to identify the changes in the Transaction…and provide other parties with an opportunity for comment…I will also schedule a pre-hearing conference to set a revised scope and schedule for the re-opened proceeding.

In theory, Bemesderfer’s ruling could completely reboot the CPUC’s review of the T-Mobile/Sprint/(and now) DISH deal and push a decision off until sometime next summer. In practice, it’s likely to have a more limited effect, with exchanges of exhibits, testimony and rebuttal taking months, not years. And not weeks.

Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling Re-Opening Record to Take Additional Evidence and Directing Joint Applicants to Amend Application, 27 August 2019

Attachment 1 – certificate of service
Attachment 2 – Exhibit 1 Proposed Final Judgment and Exhibit 2 Stipulation & Order
Attachment 3 – Exhibit 3 T-Mobile USA Form 8-K

My collection of T-Mobile/Sprint/DISH transaction documents is here