Democratic Senators Urge FCC to Delay T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Vote, Seek Public Comment

FCC chairman Ajit Pai.
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

In July, the Department of Justice cleared T-Mobile’s planned takeover of Sprint, paving the way for the nation’s third and fourth largest wireless carriers to merge into a titan to rival AT&T and Verizon. Sixteen states are suing to block the merger, and now some congressional Democrats are lobbying to have the Federal Communications Commission delay an announced vote on whether to give the deal the final sign of approval, per the Verge.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar along with Senate colleagues Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren (all currently running for president) were among those who signed a letter on Friday asking for the FCC to “issue a public notice and seek public comment on the proposed merger” before moving to a vote. The senators cited widespread concerns that the deal would actually hurt competition by further consolidating the wireless industry under the control of a handful of massive corporations—concerns which were apparently shared by some at the DOJ earlier this year, when the agency was mulling intervening. 

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“We have major antitrust concerns regarding the impact of the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger on consumers, competition, and the public interest,” the senators wrote in the letter. “We remain concerned about the lack of transparency in the FCC’s merger review process and the lack of certainty on whether this merger will protect competition and consumers.”

“For these reasons, we urge the FCC to issue a public notice and seek public comment on the proposed merger as altered by the Consent Decree and the terms set forth in Dish’s extension request letter prior to its consideration of the merger to determine if this transaction is in the public interest,” they added.

The revised merger deal that cleared DOJ scrutiny would set up Dish Network as a fourth national wireless carrier using T-Mobile’s network, as well as require the merged company to sell off wireless and prepaid business spectrum to Dish. There has been speculation that Dish has no intention of building out a serious competing network and intends to instead flip the spectrum for a huge profit down the line. As the Verge noted, House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law chairman Representative David N. Cicilline also wrote a letter on Thursday calling the proposal “presumptively illegal under decades of black letter law and the Justice Department’s merger enforcement guidelines,” adding that he also believes the law requires the FCC allow public comment before a vote.

All three Republican FCC comissioners have indicated their support for the merger, with chairman Ajit Pai arguing that the deal will result in faster deployment of next-generation 5G technology and help eliminate a so-called “digital divide” between richer and poorer states. Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two Democratic commissioners, has argued that more competition is needed and that she is not convinced the deal will lead to better service, as well as that the review process for the deal was “highly unusual” and resembled “backroom dealing.”

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The suit being brought by the 16 states isn’t heading to trial under December, with T-Mobile and Sprint agreeing the deal will not move forward until it is resolved. That means there is plenty of time for the FCC to seek comment, though par for the course under Pai’s tenure, the agency has indicated it intends to move forward without it.

“This transaction has been pending in front of the Commission for more than a year, and there have been multiple public comment cycles,” an FCC spokesperson told the Verge. “Moreover, the commitments offered by T-Mobile and Sprint to the Commission have been public since May, and many parties have submitted comments about them. The time has come for Commissioners to vote and for this proceeding to be brought to a close.”

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post