Tag Archives: t-mobile

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile accuse each other of spectrum hoarding and market domination

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile los angeles spectrum

T-Mobile is building up its inventory of mobile bandwidth, first by leasing low band, 600 MHz spectrum from a private investment firm and then, it hopes, by buying more capacity when the Federal Communications Commission auctions off C-band frequencies later this year.

That bothers AT&T and Verizon, which have formally registered their annoyance with the FCC. Although neither company publicly opposed T-Mobile acquisition of Sprint (what their lobbyists and lawyers do behind closed doors is often a different story), they’re both complaining that T-Mobile is already holding too much spectrum – exceeds the spectrum screen as the jargon goes – and shouldn’t be allowed to buy or lease any more, until AT&T and Verizon have a chance to catch up. Presumably by buying spectrum at auction without having to compete against T-Mobile’s bids.

In a blog post, an AT&T staff lobbyist argued…

In the wake of its acquisition of Sprint (in which the FCC declined to require any divestitures), T-Mobile itself now exceeds the Commission’s screen by an unprecedented margin throughout much of the country. And T-Mobile continues to add additional spectrum to its hoard. Additional spectrum leases with Dish will cause T-Mobile to exceed the 250 MHz screen by as much as 136 MHz.

Given this unprecedented level of spectrum concentration in the hands of a single carrier, we have entered a new era for the FCC’s spectrum acquisition analytical tools. The Commission must now take action to reaffirm the importance of a spectrum aggregation tool and define a meaningful approach going forward.

T-Mobile’s CEO, Mike Sievert, blasted back in a blog post of his own

Verizon, as the holder of the most spectrum in the U.S. marketplace by far, which they gained through their own financial dominance, has the anti-competitive instincts and sheer audacity to complain that a much smaller T-Mobile has too much. After holding massive spectrum advantages over T-Mobile and others for decades, Verizon and AT&T just can’t stand the idea of anyone else being ahead of them or having a fair shot in an auction where they plan to use their financial might to do what they have always done – dominate.

This squabbling is worth watching. Maybe a beefed up T-Mobile will be a competitive counterweight to AT&T and Verizon. Or maybe the three will settle into a comfortable state of non-competitive tension.

Mobile carriers use arbitration board to debunk each other’s ads

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The three major U.S. mobile carriers are fighting each other’s advertising claims via an arbitration process run by the Better Business Bureau. First, it was T-Mobile who successfully challenged AT&T’s 5GEvolution scam. The BBB’s National Advertising Division (NAD) said that putting a 5G label on 4G service was misleading, and the appeals board run by BBB agreed.

Verizon objected to T-Mobile’s wide-ranging claims of wide ranging 5G coverage and NAD agreed, albeit while blessing verbiage about the superior building penetration ability of the low band spectrum it’s using.

To round out the set, earlier this month the appeals board upheld an earlier NAD ruling – the result of a complaint by AT&T – that Verizon shouldn’t be calling its service “the most powerful 5G experience”…

The evidence in the record does not clearly demonstrate what consumers understand “powerful” to mean in “the most powerful 5G experience” in the contexts shown. The panel found that the claim “most powerful” conveys a broad superiority message and that the advertiser would need to demonstrate consumer understanding of the term “powerful” in order to make the claim.

The panel therefore concluded that absent this evidence of consumer understanding of the term “powerful,” Verizon did not have proper support for the claim “Verizon is building the most powerful 5G experience for America” and recommended that it be discontinued. The panel did note, however, that the claim would have been supported had it been non-comparative because the evidence in the record demonstrated that Verizon’s future 5G network when generally available will provide the essential network metrics, whether one accepts NAD’s interpretation or Verizon’s interpretation of “powerful.”

There’s no enforcement mechanism attached to any of these opinions. Verizon said it will pull the offending adds, and T-Mobile is taking its case to the appeals board. AT&T effectively ignored that board’s decision, and continues to identify its 4G service using a 5GE icon.

Ad watchdog says some T-Mobile 5G claims are bogus, some aren’t

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile billboard 2 las vegas 6jan2020

T-Mobile’s ads about the wonderfulness of its 5G network and the limitations of Verizon’s went too far, according to an independent watchdog. The national advertising division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau, which has been acting as a mobile broadband advertising referee lately, said that T-Mobile supported its claim that its 5G service is faster than its competitors and covers more ground, but was misleading about metrics and its ability to project 5G service into places where even 4g is troublesome…

NAD noted that the challenged claims also convey a message about metrics other than speed. There was no evidence comparing 5G to 4G on metrics like reliability and metrics that “will change our lives in really big ways,” therefore NAD recommended that T-Mobile modify its claims to more clearly state the metrics like speed for which 5G is superior to 4G.

Further, NAD determined that the challenged advertising reasonably conveys the message that T-Mobile’s 5G typically delivers service in the physical locations shown in the advertising, such as basements and elevators, where cellular customers are accustomed to potentially experiencing a coverage gap. While it was undisputed that T-Mobile’s low band signal can penetrate walls, there was no evidence of the extent to which it does so, or whether it delivers coverage in locations that have traditionally challenged cellular service.

T-Mobile is putting 5G service on its low band 600 MHz spectrum, which has more range than the mid-band frequencies typically used for 4G service, and far greater range than the millimeter wave bands that are the focus of Verizon’s 5G deployments. The trade off is capacity. Mid-band frequencies deliver more digital bandwidth and millimeter wave bands far more.

Although NAD doesn’t have any enforcement power, it has a history of turning over disputes to regulatory agencies that do if a company doesn’t cooperate. So far, mobile carriers have sorta done so, albeit after taking advantage of the opportunity to appeal adverse findings. Which T-Mobile says it will do.

CPUC reaffirms T-Mobile/Sprint approval, but wrangling over California jobs continues

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile store la 23oct2019

The conditions imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission when it approved T-Mobile’s takeover of Sprint will stand, at least for now. The CPUC decided earlier this month to reject a request to re-do its decision made by opponents of the deal. Tweaks were made to the April decision that approved the merger, but those amount to yes, we meant what we said.

Requests for rehearing are often made but rarely granted. It’s a procedural box that needs to be ticked before a CPUC decision can be challenged in court, either by T-Mobile or its opponents.

T-Mobile is also asking for changes to the CPUC’s conditions, but it’s using a different process – a petition for modification of the decision. Among other things, it wants to remove a requirement to add 1,000 new jobs while keeping the combined T-Mobile/Sprint workforce in California more or less intact.

Although T-Mobile “voluntarily committed” to keep its post-merger California headcount the same as the pre-merger total, that included a plan to hire 1,000 people for a new call center in Fresno County. So 1,000 people elsewhere in California would lose their jobs. Or move to Fresno to take presumably lower paying positions.

In its objection, the Communications Workers of America, the primary telecoms union in California, said that data scraped from T-Mobile’s website shows the bloodletting is already underway

From April 2020 to July 2020, in California, T-Mobile closed 16% of Sprint retail locations, 6% percent of T-Mobile branded stores and 2% of Metro stores. 6% of Boost stores were also closed during this period.

Industry sources back up that assertion.

T-Mobile didn’t dispute those numbers in its response, instead repeating its argument that the CPUC doesn’t have the authority to tell it to hire more people.

Modification petitions usually come to the same end as rehearing requests: technical tweaks might be made, but the substance of the CPUC’s original decision will stand. Whether the CPUC can enforce the decision is still an open question, though. I don’t doubt it’ll try, but given T-Mobile’s defiance, federal courts will provide the final answer.

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.

T-Mobile asks CPUC for permission to employ fewer people in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sprint store

T-Mobile wants the California Public Utilities Commission to dial back some of the obligations it imposed when it approved the Sprint merger in April. A “petition for modification” of the CPUC’s decision asks for three changes:

  • Strike the order to add 1,000 new jobs in California. As it has consistently argued, T-Mobile says the CPUC doesn’t have that authority. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is offering hundreds of former Sprint employees the, um, opportunity to “consider a career change”.
  • Push back a deadline for “providing average speeds of 300 Mbps to 93% of California” by two years, to 2026. T-Mobile seems to think there was a misunderstanding. It says the clock on its voluntary commitment to reach that service level started running when the merger closed, not when it was first proposed in 2018.
  • Trust the Federal Communications Commission and the California Emerging Technology Fund, which is now on T-Mobile’s payroll to the tune of $7 million a year, to verify 5G coverage and speed promises. As it stands, T-Mobile has to prove its claims using the CPUC’s independent Calspeed testing program.

The modification request won’t have much, if any, of a direct effect on the CPUC’s decision allowing the Sprint merger and the long list of conditions it attached. The request for extra time to meet the 300 Mbps download benchmark might get some consideration, but T-Mobile’s appeal doesn’t say anything new about the requirements to add 1,000 jobs in California and to do speed testing the CPUC’s way.

The deal’s opponents will respond, of course, and the commission will take up T-Mobile’s petition and opponents pending request for a rehearing eventually. Minor tweaks aside, both are likely to be rejected. At that point, the CPUC’s lengthy – two years and counting – process will be complete, which clears the path to court challenges, at the state and federal level. That’s where the real action will happen.

Hundreds of layoffs are following in the wake of the T-Mobile/Sprint deal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sprint booth mwc la 2019 22oct2019

T-Mobile is laying off hundreds of former Sprint employees as it consolidates the operations of the two mobile carriers that merged in April. A story by Zack Whittaker and Brian Heater at Tech Crunch broke the news about Sprint employees on Tuesday…

In a conference call on Monday lasting under six minutes, T-Mobile vice president James Kirby told hundreds of Sprint employees that their services were no longer needed. He declined to answer his employees’ questions, citing the “personal” nature of employee feedback, and ended the call.

T-Mobile responded with a press release in which it claimed it would “add 5,000 new positions over the next year”, but for now it wanted to “focus” its resources…

This will result in additional career opportunities for many, as the company positions itself for long-term healthy growth. As part of this process, some employees who hold similar positions are being asked to consider a career change inside the company, and others will be supported in their efforts to find a new position outside the company.

Translation: yeah, we’re firing them.

These involuntary “career changes” should come as no surprise. During the California Public Utilities Commission’s review of the merger, T-Mobile promised on the one hand to keep its combined California workforce at the same level for the next three years, while on the other hand agreeing to open a new call center in Fresno County that would employ 1,000 people. Do the math.

The CPUC did the math, and required T-Mobile to make those 1,000 call center jobs a net addition to the combined T-Mobile/Sprint headcount as of the merger date. Whether or not that order has any teeth is unknown. T-Mobile has consistently maintained that the commission has no authority over its wireless business, and matched those words with deeds.

Even bigger job cuts are coming at AT&T. It’s primary union, the Communications Workers of America, says 3,400 AT&T employees are about to be out of work, and hundreds of wireless stores will close, according to a story in FierceWireless by Bevin Fletcher.

AT&T rejects California disaster response obligations

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T is striking back at covid–19 emergency relief measures adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission. Flanked by Verizon and T-Mobile (via the mobile industry’s lobbying front organisation), AT&T wants the CPUC to repeal rules that require the company to waive things like installation or remote call forwarding fees when people are forced to relocate because of the covid–19 emergency. Those are CPUC mandates that also apply to any other “housing or financial crisis due to a disaster”. AT&T calls that “an act in excess of the Commission’s jurisdiction”.

Those rules also obligate mobile telephone companies to deploy temporary cell sites and other equipment when disaster strikes a particular community, and to provide WiFi access “in areas where impacted wireless customers seek refuge” and mobile phones “for customers seeking shelter from a disaster to use temporarily at a county or city designated shelter”.

AT&T’s landline-oriented arguments against mandatory disaster relief boil down to the CPUC can’t tell us to do that, and if it involves VoIP service, the CPUC can’t tell us to do anything. This is AT&T longstanding position, and as a result it is fighting a multimillion dollar fine and accusations of obstreperous behavior during massive power outages last year. The company is unapologetic and makes the bizarre claim that “VoIP service is not a telephone service”.

The mobile industry’s lobbyists characterise the disaster response measures imposed by the CPUC as “unlawful”, because mobile telecoms are regulated by the federal government and because the Federal Communications Commission is trying, with varying degrees of success, to prevent any state or local control over broadband service.

AT&T and most other big, monopoly model telecoms companies stepped up with voluntary and temporary consumer relief offers during the covid–19 emergency. But unlike other regulated utilities, broadband providers and telcos don’t have to, as Frontier Communications’ refusal to match low income service offers shows. As lockdowns ease and people go back to work, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile don’t want the CPUC, or anyone else, interfering with whatever plans they have for recovering their covid–19 response costs and collecting from customers temporarily unable to pay their bills.

T-Mobile rejects Californian conditions on Sprint deal, tells CPUC it has “no jurisdiction”

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile san francisco 18may2019

T-Mobile has chosen the path of regulatory defiance in California. It passed on yesterday’s deadline for challenging the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision to impose tough conditions on its acquisition of Sprint. That doesn’t mean it’s staying silent or that the matter is closed. Quite the contrary. T-Mobile responded to a procedural challenge from opponents of the deal with sharp words, and set itself up for a fight at the CPUC and in state and federal courts that will continue for years to come.

Earlier this month, opponents appealed the decision, asking for a rehearing because, well, the commission didn’t completely accept their arguments the first time around. Their request keeps the procedural ball rolling toward an inevitable jump to state and federal courts, but it doesn’t break new ground.

T-Mobile lashed out at the rehearing request in a response filed just before the three-day Memorial Day weekend. The fact that T-Mobile disagrees with its opponents isn’t surprising, or even particularly newsworthy. What’s interesting about the reply is the way T-Mobile dismisses the decision by saying, in effect, the CPUC doesn’t have the authority to tell us what to do, so we don’t care what they say

While [T-Mobile and Sprint] stand by their voluntary commitments made to this Commission, they submit – as they have from the outset of these proceedings – that the Commission has no jurisdiction to approve or deny the transfer of control of [Sprint’s wireless business], or to make its approval contingent on the imposition of mandatory conditions. Thus, the very premise of the [opponents’ rehearing reuqest], i.e., that the merger could be denied by the Commission but, failing that, should or could be subject to additional Commission-mandated conditions, is fatally flawed because the Commission lacks jurisdiction to do either…

The Commission lacks the authority to “approve” (or “deny”) the wireless transactions or to otherwise impose mandatory conditions on it. That power is reserved to the FCC under the plain language of the Communications Act and general principles of federal preemption. Thus, the Commission may not second-guess the FCC’s determination that the merger is in the public interest subject to the conditions it deemed appropriate or otherwise require additional mandatory conditions specific to California.

The response contains approving words for some of the California-specific requirements imposed by the CPUC, but in the context of refuting opponents’ claims that the commission’s decision lacks sufficient enforcement measures. Taken as a whole, T-Mobile’s stance is the same as it was when it started its CPUC odyssey nearly two years ago, as it was throughout the proceeding, and as it was when it defied the CPUC and completed the merger without permission. It doesn’t accept Californian authority over its mobile business and has only offered to “stand by” its “voluntary commitments”.

Sooner rather than later, T-Mobile will ignore one of the CPUC’s conditions or blow off requests to comply. That’ll trigger a (likely) lengthy enforcement process that T-Mobile will try to steer towards the “federal preemption” that it is counting on.

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.

T-Mobile/Sprint deal opponents ask CPUC for a California do over, while T-Mobile sits it out for now

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The wrangling over T-Mobile’s take over of Sprint continues in California. Yesterday, three organisations that stood against the merger during the nearly two years that it was under review asked the California Public Utilities Commission to reconsider its 16 April 2020 approval. But T-Mobile didn’t.

The CPUC’s public advocates office, TURN (lately standing for The Utility Reform Network) and the Greenlining Institute filed a joint application for rehearing that rehashes the arguments and evidence they previously offered in their failed bid to kill the transaction. Commissioners will go through the motions of considering the request, but there’s little chance that they’ll change their mind.

But once the rehearing is denied, the final procedural box will be ticked at the CPUC, and opponents will be free to challenge the decision in a court – likely a Californian court. The legal basis for their appeal is a section of California public utilities law that tasks the CPUC with ensuring that mergers of public utilities are “in the public interest”, do not “adversely affect competition” and, if there are any “significant adverse consequences”, impose “mitigation measures” that fix the problem. It’s no surprise that opponents believe none of that happened, and that the CPUC’s decision “contains numerous inconsistent and contradictory statements and analysis that fail to support its findings of fact and conclusions of law”, another potential legal defect that an appeals court might consider.

Yesterday was a deadline for requesting a rehearing of the T-Mobile/Sprint deal, which T-Mobile seems to have ignored. That could mean a couple things. T-Mobile might want to make a point by waiting until the next deadline – 27 May 2020 – which is for requesting rehearings of matters that don’t involve mergers, since it never conceded that the CPUC has the jurisdiction to rule on the transaction. Or it’ll put off going to court until the CPUC tries to enforce some of the conditions it imposed, like telling T-Mobile to add 1,000 jobs to its newly combined Californian workforce.

One thing you can bet on: T-Mobile isn’t going to meekly submit to the State of California’s professed authority.

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.

In a first, Gonzales, California provides free, city-funded Internet service to every home, with unique two year T-Mobile deal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Gonzales logo 625

Every household in Gonzales, California can get free Internet access, courtesy of the City of Gonzales. So can families that live outside the city limits that have students attending school there. So far, more than 1,200 households of the approximately 2,000 households in and around Gonzales have taken up the offer. Gonzales students can get online and use school district-provided Chromebooks to keep up with their lessons, despite being locked down during the covid–19 emergency.

As the crisis came to a head in March, the City accelerated distribution of T-Mobile hotspots to residents who needed or wanted broadband connectivity. In 2019, the Gonzales City Council approved an agreement with T-Mobile to buy up to 2,000 hotspots with unlimited Internet access (with the usual caveats about slowing down heavy users).

Posted by City of Gonzales, California on Friday, 20 March 2020

That deal has the City paying $12.50 per month for 24 months, for each activated hotspot. It’s a modification of a standard T-Mobile offer to schools, and includes the Gonzales Unified School District as a partner. It was negotiated after the City issued a request for qualifications in 2017. The goal, which has been largely achieved, is to provide baseline, City-funded Internet service to every home that wants it.

According to the staff report presented to the Gonzales City Council…

The T-Mobile Network in the City of Gonzales is one of the densest (3 cellular towers with 700Mhz, 1900Mhz, 2100Mhz and shortly to be released 600Mhz, covering 8,000 individuals), and underutilized network in Northern California. The Agreement requires that T-Mobile provide its best effort in delivering Wireless Internet Services well above the FCC’s Advanced Wireless Service standard of 25 Mbps Down/ 3Mbps Up.

Residents have other options. AT&T offers variable DSL service in Gonzales. After the City challenged Charter Communications in a California Public Utilities Commission proceeding in 2015, the ancient analog cable system in Gonzales was upgraded to digital capability and now supports broadband service as well.

Initial comments from families that are using the City-subsidised hotspots indicate that T-Mobile’s performance is better than AT&T can deliver, but not as good as Charter’s cable modem service. Residents had no particular problems using the hotspots and connecting to online resources and services. Any questions were handled either on an informal basis by City or school district staff, or via T-Mobile’s bilingual customer support line.

The City of Gonzales is one of my clients and I assist with the City’s broadband initiatives, including the negotiations with T-Mobile. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.