Former FCC commissioner advising T-Mobile on Sprint merger

Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat and former FCC commissioner with close ties to public interest groups, is now a paid consultant for T-Mobile, advising the carrier as it tries to win approval for its proposed merger with Sprint.

Clyburn, who opposed AT&T’s failed bid for T-Mobile in 2011, left her role at the FCC last year after serving on the commission for eight years. Robert McDowell, Clyburn’s former colleague and fellow former FCC commissioner, has been a paid advisor to T-Mobile since May 2018.

T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint would “accelerate the creation of an inclusive nationwide 5G network on how to best build a bridge across the digital divide,” Clyburn said in an interview with Politico. Despite critics arguments to the contrary, she said that T-Mobile and Sprint are committed to serving low-income communities and communities of color.

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Her hiring by T-Mobile won’t significantly impact odds of approval, according to analysts at New Street Research. “While the commissioner is highly respected at the FCC, she is still recused from lobbying there. Further, she is not close to the [Department of Justice] antitrust division staff or the state attorneys general, where we think the risks to the deal are greatest,” the analysts wrote.

“She does have a strong reputation for being concerned about low-income communities,” the analysts at New Street wrote. However, “whether low-income markets represent a separate product market and if so, what the impact will be, is likely to be decided by the arguments of economists.”

In her interview with Politico, Clyburn said the merger would expand the reach of 5G services for all U.S. residents, including those living in rural areas or with lesser means. “The people and the entities that need 5G opportunities are those in rural and low net-worth communities, and the only way for them to be realized is to have a commitment to serve those communities,” she said.