After more than a year in review and several extensions, the FCC has finally given the T-Mobile Sprint merger its final approval.
The new carrier—which people have been calling New T-Mobile—will become the second-largest U.S. carrier with control of 29.4 percent of post-paid wireless market according to data from earlier this year. That share is significantly behind Verizon’s 40.9 percent and just barely ahead of AT&T’s 28.9 percent.
However, as part of a stipulation of the deal made by the Justice Department earlier this year, T-Mobile and Sprint will be forced to divest at least 20,000 cell sites and a number of retail locations to Dish, who will become the nation’s fourth wireless provider. Dish will also get access to New T-Mobile’s network for seven years while it builds out its own coverage.
The big fear for consumers is how T-Mobile and Sprint’s merger could negatively impact the price of wireless plans across the country. That’s because despite T-Mobile CEO John Legere promising to not raise the price of wireless plans for three years following the merger, the data suggests that reduced competition could result in higher prices in the long run.
Another potential benefit of the merger is a faster rollout of 5G networks. Even before the merger was approved, T-Mobile and Sprint had been working on complementary 5G strategies in which T-Mobile was focusing on low-band Sub-6GHz and mmWave frequencies, while Sprint focused on building out its mid-band 2.5-GHz coverage. Combined, the two carriers’ joint network should provide both high-speeds and better long-range coverage than either company would have been able to deliver on its own.
However, in a dissenting opinion, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks wrote:
Based on my review of the record, I believe that T-Mobile and Sprint have failed to prove that their merger will benefit the public interest. While the parties promise their merger will accelerate the availability of some form of ‘5G’ for some Americans, history teaches us that the most likely effect of this merger will be higher prices and fewer options for all Americans.
In a statement sent to Gizmodo, former FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel echoed Stark’s opinion:
We’ve all seen what happens when market concentration increases following a merger. A condensed airline industry brought us baggage fees and smaller seats, even as the price of fuel fell. A condensed pharmaceutical industry has led to a handful of drug companies raising the prices of lifesaving medications, taking advantage of those struggling with illness. There’s no reason to think the mobile-phone industry will be different.
While it remains unclear how exactly the merger will impact current T-Mobile and Sprint customers, we expect to hear more at T-Mobile’s next Uncarrier event, which is scheduled for later this week on November 11th.