T-Mobile might have to live up to its own hype to gain California’s approval for Sprint deal

9 March 2020 by Steve Blum
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Tmobile 5g small towns 6jan2020

While the California Public Utilities Commission drafts its decision on whether to allow the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, any outsider’s opinion on what the verdict will be is pure speculation.

So I’ll speculate.

If the CPUC follows past practice, it will allow the merger to go ahead but will impose requirements that T-Mobile will have to meet in the coming years. Those conditions might end up being the “voluntary commitments” and other plans that T-Mobile has presented to the CPUC without formally and enforceably promising to fulfil them.

A simple solution would be for the CPUC to take yes for an answer and order T-Mobile to do what it say it will do. Or maybe even do better. And add real teeth to enforcement provisions.

In a last minute lobbying blitz, T-Mobile and Sprint met with advisors to the five CPUC commissioners and once again extolled the incredible wonderfulness of the benefits the new company will bestow on California if the deal goes through.

Those blessings include kinda saturating California with moderately high bandwidth 5G service on mid-band frequencies, as depicted in their proposed coverage maps. I say kinda because if you live in, say, Big Sur or on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada you’ll have to drive quite a way to get yourself saturated.

T-Mobile is also voluntarily offering to not raise consumer service prices for three years after the merger closes and to “commit to achieve” speed levels of up to 300 Mbps via its upgrade 5G cell sites. If the weasel words and time limits were removed, that might go a long way towards easing fears that T-Mobile will join AT&T and Verizon in a comfortable and highly profitable market oligopoly and jack up prices and crank up the marketing hype while laughing off any suggestion that it invest capital anywhere except where customers and revenue are densest.

Like AT&T does with its wireline broadband service.

Links to arguments and exhibits 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.