T-Mobile might get extra time to deploy in California, but must add extra jobs and meet California test standards

19 October 2020 by Steve Blum
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Tmobile billboard las vegas 6jan2020

T-Mobile will get another two years – until 2026 – to deploy 300 Mbps 5G service to 93% of Californians, if a draft decision published on Friday is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. But two other requested “modifications” to the CPUC’s conditions for approving T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint were rejected in the decision proposed by administrative law judge Karl Bemesderfer.

Assuming that CPUC commissioners vote in favor of it – a pretty good bet – it means that T-Mobile will have to add 1,000 net new jobs in California, instead of firing 1,000 higher paid employees and hiring 1,000 lower wage workers at a call center in Fresno County, as it appears to be doing. Bemesderfer’s draft rejects the claim that the CPUC doesn’t have legal authority over its labor practices on a legal technicality. T-Mobile’s ace lawyers bundled it into a “petition for modification”, instead of the “request for rehearing” that Bemesderfer says is the proper way to do it.

He also said that there’s nothing wrong with using California’s own mobile broadband testing program to track T-Mobile’s compliance with California’s own conditions…

On balance, while we recognize that there is a possibility of conflict between state and federal performance standards, we find that the benefits of measuring T-Mobile’s compliance with California-specific conditions with the CalSPEED test outweigh the possible inconvenience of having the same activity measured two different ways. While Joint Applicants raise the possibility of federal pre-emption, we see no indication in the federal proceedings of an intention on the part of federal regulators to pre-empt state action in this area.

T-Mobile had argued that the Federal Communications Commission’s mobile testing program is sufficient, which Bemesderfer didn’t buy. He did, however, accept T-Mobile’s argument that the deployment timeline they promised – and that he wrote into the original decision – was 2026, six years from when the merger closed, instead of 2024, which would have been six years from when the CPUC began reviewing the deal.

Links to arguments, exhibits and other paperwork regarding the T-Mobile/Sprint merger 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.