T-Mobile/Sprint merger changes prompt calls for public comment period

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WISPA said proposed changes to the rural broadband market could affect competition with smaller fixed broadband providers and eligibility for universal service funding. (Getty Images)

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) is adding its voice to those calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open a public comment period since new developments were made related to the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

WISPA, which previously called for a public comment period, notes the series of agreements that T-Mobile and Sprint entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) last month. Those conditions include the divestiture of certain spectrum assets to Dish Network. Prior to that, the companies committed to a number of conditions with the FCC, including 5G build-out targets in rural areas.

“The Commission should take the additional step of inviting comment on the significant changes to the transaction that have recently occurred in order to ensure that the Commission has a full and complete record to determine whether and to what extent the transaction is consistent with the public interest,” WISPA told the commisison (PDF). “Taken together, the Conditions Letter and the Consent Decree propose changes to the rural broadband marketplace that could affect competition with smaller fixed broadband providers and eligibility for universal service high-cost funding. The build-out extensions also could impact the ability of small providers to access spectrum to provide fixed wireless services to consumers in rural areas.”

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Earlier this week, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) and NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association filed an Informal Request for Commission Action asking the FCC to allow public comment on the new T-Mobile/Sprint/Dish deal approved by the Department of Justice on July 26. Like the RWA and NTCA said, WISPA argues that a public comment cycle won’t cause delay given the states’ trial won’t start until December 9 and the deal still needs Tunney Act approval.

RELATED: Trial delay worse for Sprint and Dish than T-Mobile: analyst

The RWA and NTCA said a bevy of issues need to be vetted and understood to determine if the latest proposed transaction is in the public interest.

“Indeed, in the absence of better information, there appears very real risk that, as structured, this ‘Fourth Network’ concept might not only eliminate Sprint as a competitor, but could call into question the sustainability and viability of Dish as well,” the groups wrote. “While DOJ may believe that Dish is capable of serving as a fourth nationwide competitor, the Commission should conduct a transparent review of such an assertion, including opportunity for public comment.”

They aren’t the only ones calling for a public comment period. Both FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, the two Democrats on the commission, have said a public comment period should be held.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai already has indicated his support (PDF) for the transaction, as has (PDF) Commissioner Brendan Carr. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in May indicated via Twitter that he’s inclined to support the transaction but he declined to comment when asked about it during a press conference it last week.  

The RWA has been an outspoken opponent to the merger, and has said the companies’ promises about 5G rural deployments are merely smoke and mirrors. It says Sprint historically has worked with rural carriers to ensure fair roaming rates, while T-Mobile has not, and they’re worried about what will happen to roaming agreements if Sprint is taken out of the picture and T-Mobile is left in charge.

For its part, T-Mobile has promised that the new company will deliver 5G to the extent that at least 99% of the population receives download speeds of 50 Mbps or more and at least 90% of the population receives 100 Mbps or more within six years. At least 55% of rural Americans will get more than 100 Mbps in three years, which will increase to at least two-thirds of all rural Americans in six years, according to the company’s published commitments (PDF).

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