Tag Archives: mobile broadband

T-Mobile, CETF slammed for $35 million deal to win approval of Sprint merger

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Your winnings sir

A $35 million payoff that, um, inspired the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) to “enthusiastically and wholeheartedly support” T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint was lambasted yesterday by organisations that still oppose it. The California Public Utilities Commission’s Public Advocates Office (PAO) and two advocacy organisations, TURN and the Greenlining Institute, filed objections to the agreement.

One issue in dispute is whether it is a formal settlement, which has to be negotiated and reviewed under CPUC rules, or something else. Which is what T-Mobile and CETF seem to think it is, because they didn’t follow those rules, according to the filings.

But the substance of the deal also came under fire. The objections noted, as I did last week, that T-Mobile’s promises of good behavior and grand public benefits were either recycled (in a somewhat melted form) from earlier statements or were so vague and subject to T-Mobile’s discretion as to be no promise at all.

The single significant new commitment in the agreement was $35 million, to be paid to CETF over five years by T-Mobile. The money is supposed to go towards what the contract calls “digital inclusion policy and programs”, with $22 million earmarked for various non-profits and public agencies, in a manner to be determined by CETF and T-Mobile. CETF keeps the remaining $13 million to spend on its ongoing operations.

The PAO asked the commission to reject the deal. Noting that CETF “receives a disproportional amount of funding” that “exceeds any commission approved operating costs percentage”, the PAO said it…

…has determined that the agreement is not in the public interest or reasonable on its face…

The Agreement requires New T-Mobile to provide $35 million over 5 years to CETF’s “Digital Inclusion Policy and Programs” projects without any basis in the record to evaluate, verify, and monitor these programs to ensure that the amount of $35 million is appropriate. While the Public Advocates Office strongly supports efforts to close the digital divide, as described above, additional hearings are necessary to investigate these proposals. The record does not sufficiently describe what these programs do, the amount of money necessary to properly fund them, who operates them, or any other details about them.

CETF and T-Mobile have ten days to respond. One possible outcome is that the administrative law judge managing the CPUC’s review could order new hearings to delve into the details of the agreement. That has the potential to further delay an inquiry that has been extended by at least a couple of months because of earlier cheap lawyer tricks by T-Mobile.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile are here.

5G hype gets a reality check in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It looks like 2020 will be the year that genuine 5G smartphones will finally be in the hands of consumers. Two developments this week cleared away significant uncertainty about who will be offering 5G phones, when it will happen and whose technology they’ll use.

The two companies settled a long running legal dispute over intellectual property rights to core 5G technology, including a deal for Apple to buy modem chips, which do the heavy processing work of wrangling radio waves into data streams at one end and reading them at the other.

The second announcement came shortly afterwards. Intel said it’s giving up its quest to build competing modem chips and leaving that market segment to Qualcomm. Not the entire market, though. There are a lot more kinds of chips that go into smartphones, 5G and otherwise, and Intel still plans to make them.

One of the benefits, if you want to call it that, of a monopoly is faster standardisation. Which reduces supply chain uncertainty for manufacturers and simplifies technical challenges for carriers, increasing the odds that predictions of mass market 5G product and service availability by the end of 2019 will come true.

Those early handsets won’t be made by Apple. Major Android phone makers are pushing to have 5G products in the market for this year’s Christmas selling season, but Apple didn’t make the same promise. Now, it can’t. Apple won’t be able to design and tool up to make Qualcomm-based iPhones until 2020, perhaps not until the second half of the year.

But there’s finally a clear roadmap for all major smartphone makers to make the jump soon enough to begin building a meaningful 5G user base in 2020. Mobile carriers will be judged on the basis of how well they deliver on the hype and the deceptions they’ve relied on so far. We’ll finally know what 5G really means.

T-Mobile, Sprint scramble to keep merger deal alive in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The odds of T-Mobile getting permission from federal and California regulators to buy Sprint are getting longer. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the federal justice department is reluctant to approve the deal in its current form. That has a familiar ring to it – it was the same kind of antitrust concerns that led to the justice department and Federal Communications Commission killing Comcast’s bid to take over Time Warner’s cable systems and do market consolidating swaps with Charter in 2015.

T-Mobile seems to be trying to pick up the pieces in California. Its lawyers filed a notice yesterday saying that company representatives will meet with California Public Utilities Commission commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves next week. They didn’t say what they planned to talk about, but it’s not much of a reach to suppose they’ll try to divert attention away from the microeconomic, antitrust harm the deal will do to all Californians, and towards the special benefits that a few have managed to extract for themselves.

Those megabuck spiffs will evaporate if the deal collapses. The CPUC is reviewing it, with a long list of issues to address. A decision is at least two months away, and likely more.

The Journal’s story also kicked off a new round of damage control by the companies and speculation on what a deal that would satisfy anti-trust concerns would look like. A story in Investor’s Business Daily speculated that some kind of hybrid wholesale model, where both companies retail service via a consolidated network, might fly.

The CEOs of T-Mobile and Sprint jumped on Twitter to make what amount to non-denials.

John Legere, T-Mobile’s chief, issued a tightly spun response in which he objected to “the premise of this story, as summarised in the first paragraph”. Translation: the facts reported in paragraph two, three, four and more are true. Marcelo Claure, CEO of Sprint, simply said the article “is not accurate”. As in, I wouldn’t have put it quite that way.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile are here.

AT&T hides 4G digital divide behind 5GE facade

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Opensignal att 5ge 22mar2019

AT&T’s 5GE scam is unravelling. Measurements taken by an independent testing company, OpenSignal, show that slapping a phony 5G label on upgraded 4G LTE service does not make the user experience any faster.

According to OpenSignal’s blog post

Some AT&T users in the U.S. have recently seen “5G E” appear on the status bar of their existing smartphones, replacing 4G. This move has sparked controversy because AT&T is using updated 4G network technologies to connect these smartphone users, not the new 5G standard…

Analyzing Opensignal’s data shows that AT&T users with 5G E-capable smartphones receive a better experience than AT&T users with less capable smartphone models…But AT&T users with a 5G E-capable smartphone receive similar speeds to users on other carriers with the same smartphone models that AT&T calls 5G E. The 5G E speeds which AT&T users experience are very much typical 4G speeds and not the step-change improvement which 5G promises.

If anything, AT&T’s attempt to jump the 5G gun seems about to backfire. The tests show that real 4G improvements have been made by AT&T, as well as Verizon and T-Mobile. Combining upgraded LTE infrastructure with current generation smartphones produces significantly faster download speeds. But instead of trying to capitalise on 4G success, AT&T is positioning itself as an evolved 5G failure.

To a large extent, AT&T’s future is built on expanding its portfolio of 4G systems. It’s using federal subsidies to build a 4G-based national public safety network and to deploy its 4G-based wireless local loop technology to replace rural copper networks. It will be building true 5G systems over the next five to ten years in urban markets where money and customers are thicker on the ground, but not in rural communities where 5G equipment will be relegated to an “infill” role, if it’s deployed at all.

Slapping a 5G label, with or without the microscopic E, on everything is an attempt – doomed, hopefully – by AT&T to disguise the growing divide between digital haves and have nots.

California extends review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger to maybe July, maybe August

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Caltrans slow

T-Mobile and Sprint lawyered themselves into a four week delay in California’s regulatory review of their merger deal. Yesterday, a California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge (ALJ) granted a request from staff to force the companies to turn over additional information, and extended the deadline for opening briefs to 26 April 2019, and for rebuttals to 10 May 2019.

Under normal circumstances, it would usually take about a month after that for ALJ Karl Bemesderfer to draft a proposed decision and, absent extraordinary circumstances, state law requires another month for public review and comment before commissioners vote on it. Bemesderfer is well versed in telecoms issues and has produced draft decisions quickly in the past, so it might not take him that long. But it could, and there’s still the possible of further delays, particularly if T-Mobile continues to alternate last minute document dumps with scorched earth stonewalling. Only one commission meeting is scheduled for July, on the 11th, so even adding just a week to the schedule could knock a final decision into August.

The CPUC’s public advocates office (aka Cal Advocates) wants the deal killed “because of the irreparable damage to competition in the wireless market and the low-income customer market” it would cause. A few days before hearings began at the CPUC last month, T-Mobile dumped thousands of pages of evidence, testimony and analysis on Cal Advocates and others opposing the merger. As a result, Cal Advocates asked for more time to review the information and prepare its case. Bemesderfer gave them four extra weeks.

Cal Advocates then asked T-Mobile and Sprint to produce additional information to back up the claims made in the earlier document dump, as CPUC procedures allow. In yesterday’s ruling, Bemesderfer said T-Mobile didn’t cooperate as it should have…

Cal Advocates served the referenced data requests on T-Mobile, but received only objections to the data requests without substantive responses. On March 5 and 6, 2019, Cal Advocates and T-Mobile representatives met and conferred regarding the data requests. In those meetings, T-Mobile representatives asserted their belief that my February 26 Ruling limited Cal Advocates to using information already in its possession when preparing its briefs in this matter. Cal Advocates contends that my February 26 Ruling [granting four extra weeks for review] permits inquiry into matters raised in T-Mobile’s rebuttal testimony. I listed those matters in the February 26 Ruling…

It is self-evident that the information sought would be of value to Cal Advocates in preparing its briefs…

In light of my earlier ruing granting Cal Advocates’ motion to amend and supplement its testimony in response to the rebuttal testimony submitted by T-Mobile, I find that…T-Mobile is required to produce responses to [the data requests].

T-Mobile has been pushing hard for a fast decision from the CPUC, even going as far as sending a letter to the commissioner overseeing the review, Clifford Rechtschaffen.

It didn’t seem to have the desired effect. Perhaps this time they’ll learn that, in California, cooperation is usually faster than litigation.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile are here.

T-Mobile plays daddy says no, go ask mommy game at CPUC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Brady bunch

Instead of playing nice with the other kids, T-Mobile is asking for parental intervention as the California Public Utilities Commission reviews its proposed deal to takeover Sprint. Possibly afraid its document dumping and foot dragging tactics are going to backfire and cause even more delays at the CPUC, T-Mobile sent a joint letter to commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen yesterday, telling him don’t tap the brakes, you need to step on the gas dude

The Commission’s timely review will help ensure that Californians benefit from the broad range of benefits documented in the extensive evidence we have submitted to the Commission. Conversely, any action that could delay consummation of the merger would slow the build-out of New T-Mobile’s robust, 5G network in California, thereby delaying New T- Mobile’s ability to provide all consumers in California the benefits of that network—such as increased speeds and expanded coverage, lower prices, and a bona fide wireless alternative to traditional in-home broadband service.

The problem is that T-Mobile, which is walking point at the CPUC for both companies, keeps turning up the volume on both its claims of wonderfulness and the amount of paperwork its shovelling as it attempts to convince regulators that the deal won’t do more harm to consumers than good.

The FCC paused its review of the deal for at least three weeks, because T-Mobile’s latest filings “contain substantial new material and reach conclusions about the effects of the transaction that were not previously in the record”. The CPUC administrative law judge (ALJ) managing the case, Karl Bemesderfer, added four weeks to his review because T-Mobile similarly introduced thousands of pages of new evidence to shore up its arguments that its takeover of Sprint would benefit Californians, rather than killing a competitive market for mobile broadband services.

Rechtschaffen is the commissioner assigned to oversee the T-Mobile/Sprint review. It would be procedurally and politically dicey, to say the least, if he intervened. Similar pleas have been made in high profile telecoms mergers in the past to no apparent effect, particularly on Bemesderfer who rates as one of the keenest and most telecoms savvy ALJs at the commission.

Right now, he’s considering a request from the CPUC’s public advocates office to force T-Mobile to handover supporting documents that were requested weeks ago. T-Mobile’s response is expected tomorrow. We’ll find out whether they think a cooperative attitude will help speed up the process.

T-Mobile stalls CPUC, FCC reviews of Sprint merger with cheap lawyer tricks

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Getting a fast approval of its proposed takeover of Sprint from federal and state regulators is supposedly T-Mobile’s goal, but it’s not helping itself. Last week, its habit of stonewalling and waiting until the last minute to provide information to regulators reviewing the merger resulted in a three week (minimum) hold at the Federal Communications Commission and a demand from California Public Utilities Commission staff to turn over stacks of documents previously requested. That demand could also lead to a further delay in getting California’s blessing for the deal.

According to an FCC notice, the agency needs time to review new claims about the wonderfulness of the merger made by T-Mobile and get public feedback…

On February 21, 2019, and March 6, 2019, the Applicants filed significant additional information regarding their network integration plans for 2019–2021, an extension of their previously filed merger simulation analysis to cover the years 2019–2021, and additional information regarding their claims related to fixed wireless broadband services. These filings contain substantial new material and reach conclusions about the effects of the transaction that were not previously in the record.

As a result, the FCC added at least three weeks to its review, pausing its informal 180-day shot clock at 121 days, with a restart not scheduled until 4 April 2019 at the earliest.

One problem is that a key filing describing T-Mobile’s plans to offer in-home service is marked confidential, so the FCC won’t be getting much public comment on it.

The CPUC’s public advocates office (PAO) asked the administrative law judge (ALJ) managing the case to force T-Mobile to produce more data, to back up the claims made in a similar avalanche of data ahead of hearings last month. That dump and T-Mobile’s introduction of new claims, resulted in a four week delay. The PAO says that “in response to the Public Advocates Office’s Data Requests to T-Mobile…T-Mobile provided only objections and no substantively responsive answers. T-Mobile’s objections are unfounded and inappropriate”.

The back and forth argument over evidence is eating up the extra time added to the schedule by the ALJ. If that causes the problem, the obvious solution is to add even more time, something T-Mobile claims it doesn’t want to happen.

Alternating last minute data dumps with lawyerly foot dragging seems like a bad way of getting a quick decision from the CPUC and the FCC. If T-Mobile is really in the hurry it claims to be to get the Sprint deal approved, it needs to start playing nice with the other kids.

Collected documents, dumped and otherwise, from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile are here.

T-Mobile, Sprint sandbag themselves as California’s merger review is bumped a month

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sandbags

A document dump by T-Mobile and Sprint backfired at the California Public Utilities Commission. The administrative law judge managing the commission’s review of the proposed merger of the two companies gave opponents four extra weeks to digest and rebut thousands of pages of material submitted shortly before hearings were held earlier this month.

In his ruling, ALJ Karl Bemesderfer rejected a request by the CPUC’s public advocates office (PAO] for a second round of hearings, but acknowledged that T-Mobile and Sprint did not leave enough time to review all the documents they dropped on the CPUC…

Regardless of whether Joint Applicants’ rebuttal testimony contains new evidence and arguments, the sheer volume of the material together with the complexity of the subject matter has worked a disadvantage to [the PAO] that requires a remedy…

Accordingly, the schedule in this proceeding will be adjusted by moving the date for submission of opening briefs to March 29, 2019 and the date for submission of reply briefs to April 12, 2019. The anticipated date for a proposed decision remains unchanged; consequently, I find that the revised schedule does not work a hardship on Joint Applicants.

Originally, opening briefs were supposed to be submitted this Friday, 1 March 2019. Bemesderfer is arguably correct in saying that the timeline hasn’t changed, but that’s because it was vague. The final schedule set by the commissioner overseeing the inquiry, Clifford Rechtschaffen, called for publishing a proposed decision in “2nd Quarter 2019”. So long as the CPUC’s proposed decision is posted before the end of June, that schedule will be met. But four more weeks is four more weeks, and the two companies are not happy about it.

Commission rules require a 30 day public review period before a vote can be taken, which means the proposed decision might not come before the commission until sometime in July or even August. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bemesderfer finishes his draft decision by mid-May, which would leave enough time for a final decision to be reached in June.

Collected documents, dumped and otherwise, from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile are here.

T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint could get even closer scrutiny in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Californian opponents of T-Mobile’s proposed takeover of Sprint want more hearings and another round of written evidence and rebuttals, before the California Public Utilities Commission moves ahead with approving or rejecting it. Prior to last week’s hearings, the CPUC in-house consumer advocacy unit – the public advocates office (PAO) – asked the administrative law judge hearing the case to, in effect, slow the proceeding down to give them time to review four thousand pages of testimony and evidence that T-Mobile and Sprint dropped on them. The PAO is recommending that the CPUC not allow the merger to take place.

After the hearings, other opponents – two private consumer advocacy groups, TURN and the Greenlining Institute, and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a telecoms labor union – endorsed the request for more testimony and hearings. As CWA put it

Justifying an application for the first time with 4,000 pages of “rebuttal testimony” is entirely improper and violates intervenors’ due process rights. The Commission has held that “[p]roviding the basic justification in rebuttal is unfair, since parties are not generally given the opportunity to respond to rebuttal with testimony of their own.”

Sprint and T-Mobile naturally don’t agree. They submitted more than 250 pages of additional material that argues that there was nothing in the 4,000 pages that was particularly new or didn’t directly respond to points previously made by opponents to the deal. The companies particularly object to adding more hearings and filings because doing so “would substantially disrupt the schedule adopted by the Commission – adding at least six weeks of unjustified delay”.

The Federal Communications Commission is also reviewing the proposed merger. Assuming there isn’t another federal government shutdown, it’s scheduled to reach a decision by the end of May. Even if the CPUC’s review remains on its original track, it could run even longer than that.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile tries to make California merger case with soft engineering and hard hype

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Ebbc mobile broadband availability 2012

T-Mobile and Sprint claim that if they are allowed to merge, then California will see “enormous public-interest benefits”. That’s what the companies told the California Public Utilities Commission in testimony submitted as part of the regulatory review of their proposed deal. That claim is founded in large part on T-Mobile’s description of a glorious 5G future that includes download speeds of up to half a gigabit and coverage that reaches deep into the most rural areas of California.

The catch is that this wonderfulness is “projected” and not promised. Even if the infrastructure is built, T-Mobile’s president, Michael Sievert, is careful to add a footnote in small print that reminds us…

Average data rate is not equivalent to the actual user experience. The user experience will be affected by a number of variable factors, including received signal strength, location of the mobile device and base station, and whether the device is in motion, among others.

His testimony is supplemented with an impressive collection of county by county maps offered by his chief technology officer, Neville Ray, that show how much better 5G service will be if T-Mobile can scoop up Sprint. It appears that Ray is assuming that Sprint won’t grow much – his projections for Sprint’s 5G coverage area look a lot like its current 4G and below footprint.

The real problem is that this sort of modelling produces coverage predictions that far outstrip actual results. An example is shown above. It’s two mobile broadband coverage maps for the east San Francisco Bay Area posted by the CPUC in 2012. The one on the left is an aggregate of the availability reports generated by the four major mobile carriers using predictive modelling, the one on the right is based on actual mobile download tests conducted by the CPUC, and then run through the same process. The carriers claimed nearly everything was green, the color of good and great. The CPUC’s measurements showed that service in most of the region is brown to yellow, the color of, well, you get the picture.

Oral testimony in the case begins today in a CPUC courtroom in San Francisco. We can only hope that it won’t be as larded with marketing hype as T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s written statements.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s review of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile.