Antitrust Law Daily Congressional Democrats ask FCC to allow public comment on T-Mobile/Sprint merger
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Friday, August 16, 2019

Congressional Democrats ask FCC to allow public comment on T-Mobile/Sprint merger

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

"Major antitrust concerns" cited as reason for delaying agency approval.

House antitrust, commercial and administrative law subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D., R.I.), as well as eight Democratic senators, are questioning Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to move forward with a vote to approve the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. Criticizing a perceived "rush" to clear the combination, the lawmakers are calling for additional public input.

Today, a letter was sent by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Tom Udall (D., N.M.), Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, urging the agency "to issue a public notice and seek public comment on the proposed merger as altered by the Consent Decree and the terms set forth in Dish’s extension request letter prior to its consideration of the merger to determine if this transaction is in the public interest." The senators suggested that it was necessary to ensure the public's trust in the FCC process. Klobuchar, who is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, said in a statement that she has serious antitrust concerns about the deal.

This follows a similar letter from Cicilline to Pai a day earlier. "[T]he proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint is presumptively illegal under decades of black letter law and the Justice Department’s merger enforcement guidelines," Cicilline wrote. "Both the original transaction and proposed settlement agreement raise the threat of higher phone bills, less choice, fewer jobs, and worse wages for hardworking Americans. The prospect of these harmful effects for working people demands a comprehensive and transparent review," he added. "Notwithstanding these wide-ranging and substantial negative effects, the Commission’s review of the transaction appears to be incomplete."

In a statement released on August 14, Pai recommended approval of the deal. The chairman shared with his fellow commissioners a draft Order that would allow the merger to proceed, subject to conditions.

Pai said the deal would be in the public interest subject to the divestiture of Boost Mobile, along with other conditions, intended to address the potential for competitive harm from the transaction. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that, along with five states, it reached a settlement with T-Mobile and Sprint regarding competition concerns over their proposed merger. Under the terms of the proposed final judgment, T-Mobile and Sprint must divest Sprint’s prepaid business, including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint prepaid, to Dish Network Corp., a Colorado-based satellite television provider. The proposed settlement also provides for the divestiture of certain spectrum assets to Dish. Additionally, T-Mobile and Sprint must make available to Dish at least 20,000 cell sites and hundreds of retail locations. T-Mobile must also provide Dish with robust access to the T-Mobile network for a period of seven years while Dish builds out its own 5G network. If approved by the federal district court, the final judgment will resolve the Justice Department’s antitrust concerns raised in the complaint.

Companies: Deutsche Telekom AG; DISH Network Corp.; Sprint Corp.; T-Mobile US, Inc.

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