State opposition to T-Mobile Sprint deal grows, as FCC is asked to close the case

14 August 2019 by Steve Blum
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Tmobile san francisco 18may2019

The wrangling over T-Mobile’s takeover of Sprint continues at the state level, even while the companies try to seal the deal with the Federal Communications Commission, on the basis of a settlement reached with the federal justice department.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s review of the merger will continue into Fall. Yesterday was the deadline for publishing a proposed decision – not that one was expected – to make it on the commission’s 12 September 2019 meeting agenda. Opponents of the merger want it to go even further, and have asked that the evidence gathering phase be reopened in light of the settlement. T-Mobile is yet to file its counter argument.

Since the settlement was announced, both Oregon and Texas have signed on to the multi-state lawsuit launched by state attorneys general to block the deal. The addition of Texas AG Ken Paxton lines a prominent republican up with a herd of democrats, and takes much of the anti-Trump edge off of what ought to be an antitrust issue. In a press release, Paxton said fewer competitors in the mobile marketplace means less service and higher prices…

After careful evaluation of the proposed merger and the settlement, we do not anticipate that the proposed new entrant will replace the competitive role of Sprint anytime soon…It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to preserve free market competition, which has proven to result in lower prices and better quality for consumers. The bargain struck by the U.S. Dept. of Justice is not in the best interest of working Texans, who need affordable mobile wireless telecommunication services that are fit to match the speed and technological innovation demands of Texas’ growing economy.

On the other hand, T-Mobile is appealing to its republican friends on the FCC, in the hopes of blocking any further review there. Lobbying groups representing mostly wireless broadband providers and rural telecoms companies want the FCC to take public comment on the settlement reached with the federal justice department, and on DISH’s request for extension of deadlines for making use of spectrum it already controls. T-Mobile’s response amounts to you’re already on our side, so what’s to discuss?

Prior to the announcement of the [antitrust settlement], a majority of the Commissioners publicly stated their support for the merger based on the record before the Commission. The additional commitments resulting from the Consent Decree only create added public interest benefits for consumers and competition…However, consideration of these additional benefits is not necessary to find the transaction to be in the public interest.

You’d think that maybe someone would want to confirm that the terms of the antitrust settlement are 100% benefits, but if everyone has already made up their minds, why bother?