Telecompetitor
By Joan Engebretson

The review process for the pending Sprint T-Mobile merger has been “highly unusual,” according to a group of Sprint T-Mobile merger opponents including the Communications Workers of America, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) and others. The merger opponents made their comments in a petition to the FCC asking the commission to pause the merger review process and asking for a new comment period.

A new comment period is warranted in the wake of events that have transpired since a previous comment period, the petitioners argued. These new events include developments involving DISH Network, which has committed to buying spectrum and prepaid mobile operations from the merger partners as a condition of DOJ merger approval. The petitioners also point to recent FCC allegations that Sprint violated rules of the Lifeline low-income program. That violation potentially cost telecom ratepayers millions of dollars.

Other entities signing on to the joint petition include Consumer Reports, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, New America’s Open Technology Institute, the Open Markets Institute, Public Knowledge and The Greenlining Institute.

Sprint T-Mobile Merger Opponents
According to the petition from the Sprint T-Mobile merger opponents, the “highly unusual” aspects of the Sprint T-Mobile merger review process include:

  • The announcement of support for the merger from three of five FCC commissioners before the completion of the legal, engineering and economic analysis by the commission staff and before the DOJ’s antitrust review
  • Incomplete ex parte filings from T-Mobile about 15 meetings with the FCC related to the pending merger

Rural service provider associations NTCA and RWA have previously indicated their opposition to the Sprint T-Mobile merger, arguing that Sprint currently “stands out” for its willingness to offer its network to rural wireless carriers and citing research showing that the merger in many cases would result in price increases exceeding 15%.

The FCC’s allegations about Sprint Lifeline violations relate to a requirement that carriers receiving Lifeline support cancel free service for low-income Lifeline customers if they do not use the service for several months.