T-Mobile and Sprint have some explaining to do if their proposed merger has any chance of approval. The leaders of both companies will be making an appearance on Capitol Hill next month to face lawmakers’ questions about the merger’s potential impacts on consumers, workers and the wireless industry.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for Feb. 13. T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure have both agreed to testify at what will be the first merger review hearing before the committee in more than eight years.
“A merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would combine two of the four largest wireless carriers and the carriers with the largest numbers of low-income customers,” Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) wrote in a prepared statement. “As the committees with oversight of the [FCC] and Department of Justice, we must hold this hearing to examine the effects on important issues like jobs, costs to consumers, innovation and competition. We look forward to examining this merger from the perspective of what is in the best interest of consumers and hardworking people.”
Consumer advocacy groups and those who oppose the merger are praising the move. “We applaud bipartisan House lawmakers for holding this rare joint hearing on the consequences of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger,” said the 4Competition Coalition, an alliance of public interest groups, unions and telecom companies opposed to the merger.
“In the nine months since the proposed transaction was first announced, the evidence submitted in the public record clearly demonstrates that this merger will hurt consumers, competition and jobs,” the group wrote in a prepared statement. “We look forward to lawmakers’ examination of these harms during next month’s hearing.”
In a prepared statement, Matt Wood, action policy director at Free Press, cheered the House for “getting serious about the harms of runaway consolidation in the wireless industry and other communications and tech sectors.” Wood contends that the competition between T-Mobile and Sprint is critical because it “helps eliminate barriers poor people and people of color often face when trying to get services. If two of the four remaining national cellphone carriers merge, people who depend most on affordable internet access will have no other options to turn to.”
Soon after the hearing was announced, Legere, as he is wont to do, went to Twitter to downplay the potential negative outcomes of the grilling on Capitol Hill.
I am looking forward to sharing the benefits of the T-Mobile / Sprint merger with the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees on 2/13. It’s a great opportunity to explain why it’s good for consumers, good for competition and good for the country. https://t.co/VAwKLYhE2Q— John Legere (@JohnLegere) January 28, 2019
During the five-week federal government shutdown, many forces and trends coalesced to disrupt and possibly put a halt to the proposed merger. The FCC’s formal review was put on hold, California’s Public Advocates Office issued a report that strongly recommended a denial of the merger, and an investigation by The Washington Post found that nine high-ranking T-Mobile executives stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., the day after the merger was announced. And the House Energy and Commerce Committee scheduled the hearing just days after five U.S. senators sent a letter to the committee urging them to hold a hearing.