California’s review of T-Mobile/Sprint merger could turn into March madness

26 December 2019 by Steve Blum
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Tmobile arena

The CPUC’s review of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is likely to run for two or three more months. The briefs filed last week were the last item on the schedule set in October, but that’s not necessarily the end of the road. Rebuttals might be allowed. Other kinds of requests that might result in a delay are possible, although T-Mobile seems to have put aside the sandbagging and stonewalling tactics that cost it at least a couple of months of extra time earlier this year.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra also has a role to play, and he’s yet to appear on the CPUC’s stage. The commission is obligated to ask for his opinion in certain circumstances, and he’s not likely to offer it until the anti-trust lawsuit he filed, along with other state attorneys general, to block the merger is decided in federal court. Testimony in that case ended in New York last Friday, and closing arguments are scheduled for 15 January 2020.

Once that’s all done, administrative law judge Karl Bemesderfer and commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen have to draft a proposed decision. That’s a process that sometimes, but not always, takes several weeks. The job falls mostly to Bemesderfer, and he has a track record of producing complex decisions relatively quickly.

Once a draft decision is published, there’s a mandatory 30 day public review period before the full commission can vote on it. T-Mobile is demanding that a draft be posted by the first Tuesday of the new year, so it can can be heard at the commission’s 6 February meeting. Anything is possible, but I would bet against it. My guess is that the CPUC will wait for Becerra to weigh in, and I don’t think that will happen until there’s a verdict in his federal court challenge. That could happen in time for a draft to be published and make it onto the commission’s 27 February 2020 agenda, but that’s optimistic. A March decision seems more likely.