Sprint and T-Mobile US reportedly exploring settlement of state-level lawsuits
The Department of Justice recently gave Sprint and T-Mobile US approval for a long-pending $26 billion merger with extensive concessions. And now Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has circulated a draft order that approves the deal signifying his formal approval. The major remaining issue are lawsuits challenging the merger brought by 16 state attorneys general.
Sprint and T-Mobile US leaders are reportedly discussing potential settlement terms and previously said they wouldn’t finalize the merger until the lawsuits are resolved.
Pai called the review that culminated in his recommendation for approval was “one fo the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history.” He reiterated that the carrier combination, and the eventual entrance of Dish as a fourth, nationwide, facilities-based carrier would hasten 5G roll out and rural broadband deployment.
“Moreover,” Pai said, “with the conditions included…the merger will promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market.”
Pai did not put his order out for public review and comment, which prompted criticism from the think tank New America’s Open Technology Institute. Senior Counsel Joshua Stager called the FCC action “blind rubber-stamping.” He characterized the deal with Dish, which will buy up Sprint’s prepaid businesses and other assets, a “secretly negotiated side deal…It’s a massive, convoluted scheme that would dramatically upend the wireless market, raise consumer prices, and kill jobs.”
The Rural Wireless Association also called out Pai for not accepting public comment. General Counsel Carri Bennet said, “The approach by the FCC Chairman is not at all surprising given his unprecedented outspokenness ahead of the DOJ decision.”
Bennet said Pai’s move will come into play as the state-level lawsuits progress. “The state AGs can point to a lack of careful review of the Dish deal and demonstrate how the FCC abysmally shirked its responsibility to seek comment from the public when the proposed transaction was radically shifted.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel took to Twitter after receiving a copy of Pai’s order. “I believe we need more competition, not less. I am not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to better outcomes for consumers. But what I am convinced of is that before the votes on this new deal negotiated by Washington, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in and comment. Too much here has been done behind closed doors.”