The review of the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been “bonkers,” according to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced in August that he was circulating an order related to the transaction so that his colleagues could consider it. He called it one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in commission history, with evidence demonstrating that the combination of the two, as structured, will help close the digital divide and promote competition.
Rosenworcel does not exactly share that assessment. “We now have a text, but I find it bizarre that they all agreed to this before they even circulated a document and now, they’re spending time making changes to that document, but have not shared with us what those changes are,” she said.
She encouraged anyone to inquire about the difference between what was initially circulated and what will see the light of day after the edits to the draft order are made, which she and fellow Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks have not seen. “I think it will be instructive to try to understand what changes were made and why,” she said.
Starks earlier this week called for a pause in the FCC’s consideration of the merger until an investigation into Sprint’s apparent misuse of millions in Lifeline subsidies is resolved. Until that investigation is done, “I don’t see how we could have confidence in … allowing two parties to merge considering especially the liability and the exposure that is out there,” he said on Thursday. “I just don’t think we can proceed with the transaction until that Lifeline investigation is resolved.”
Since the T-Mobile/Sprint deal was announced in April 2018, there have been several unprecedented procedures associated with it, including the timing of the FCC chairman’s support for the deal in May ahead of the Department of Justice (DoJ) taking a public position. The DoJ ultimately signed off after a series of negotiations that sets up Dish Network as a fourth competitor, taking Sprint’s place, through a series of divestitures on the part of the combined company.
Starks reiterated his view that the reconfigured deal, with Dish now in the picture, should be the subject of a new round of public comment. The fact that hasn’t happened is troubling to him, he said.
Commissioner Brendan Carr, who’s been involved in at least nine ex parte meetings with merger stakeholders, was asked during a separate press conference about the content of those meetings. He said he’s heard from a range of stakeholders, not just T-Mobile, and after spending a lot of time with the record on the deal, he’s in favor of the transaction, a position he’s publicly stated before.
“I think it’s a real big win for U.S. leadership in 5G,” and it would go a long way to bridging the digital divide, with the commitment to bring 5G to 99% of the United States. It also would put Sprint’s 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum into broader play and offer an in-home broadband product that gives consumers more choice.
“We’ve been diligently doing our work,” working through the item, he said, adding that he would expect that work to be done very soon, but he had no news to break on that front.