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

26 March 2019 by Steve Blum
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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.