Federal judge matters not to California’s review of T-Mobile/Sprint deal, CPUC told

13 February 2020 by Steve Blum
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Fred gwynne judge

Opposition to the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is alive and kicking in California, as the California Public Utilities Commission’s review continues. The primary opponents of the deal – the CPUC’s public advocates office, the consumer advocacy groups TURN and the Greenlining Institute, and the Communications Workers of America union – replied to T-Mobile’s plea for immediate approval yesterday.

Like T-Mobile, the group – AKA joint advocates – made their position known in an email addressed to the CPUC commissioner and administrative law judge who are in charge of the case. A federal judge’s approval doesn’t matter so much in California, they said…

The Commission must acknowledge that the events at the [federal] District court have little direct impact on this Commission’s review of the transaction. Quite distinct from the federal review by the FCC and DOJ, the Commission has independent authority and obligation to review this merger and it should rely on that authority to continue its review…the Commission has a very clear statutory obligation to conduct a thorough and detailed review of this transaction to ensure it is in the public interest and will benefit California consumers.

The fact that the District Court has concluded its review does not require this Commission to accelerate its own review of the merger or to change its intended path in any way…Joint Advocates strongly believe that the record in this proceeding demonstrates that this transaction will harm California consumers

The email also pointed out that the CPUC has a formal process for putting things such as court decisions into the official record, which T-Mobile did not follow. The last time T-Mobile tried an end run around the formalities was when it similarly asked the CPUC to defer to the greater wisdom of the federal justice department and rubber stamp the deal. That didn’t end well – the result was another round of hearings and months of delay.

T-Mobile has already made a thinly veiled threat to close the Sprint merger without California’s blessing, and yesterday’s email might be read as setting 1 April 2020 as the deadline for that.