FCC Poised to OK T-Mobile-Sprint Merger

The reconfigured T-Mobile-Sprint deal appears to have the three votes needed to secure approval by the five-member FCC.

That came after the companies volunteered a revised list of conditions that included divesting Boost Mobile, the low-cost prepaid wireless subsidiary; building out high-speed 5G wireless service to most of the nation, including rural areas, on a timetable acceptable to the FCC; and maintaining the same or better prices for three years.

The buildout requirements and other commitments are subject to up to $2.4 billion in fines if the companies to not do as promised.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced his support Monday: “In light of the significant commitments made by T-Mobile and Sprint as well as the facts in the record to date, I believe that this transaction is in the public interest and intend to recommend to my colleagues that the FCC approve it. This is a unique opportunity to speed up the deployment of 5G throughout the United States and bring much faster mobile broadband to rural Americans. We should seize this opportunity.”

Those are both key priorities both for the FCC and the Trump Administration.

Republican commissioner Brendan Carr also agreed the restructured deal, submitted to the FCC Monday (May 20), was in the public interest and had his vote as well. Third Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly said late Monday that he was "inclined" to approve it, providing the votes needed to pass.

O'Rielly's less-than-full-throated support appeared to stem from the number and type of conditions, so his reservation was likely by way of making the point that the deal did not need them to be in the public interest rather than signaling he might incline the other way before the item was voted.

The chairman said he would be circulating an order approving the deal to the other commissioners "in the coming weeks." The review began in June of last year.

On the Democratic side of the agency, commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told NPR she had issues with the deal.

The Justice Department still has to resolve its antitrust review of the deal, but the Boost divestiture may signal it will be OK with it as well given antitrust chief Makan Delrahim's avowed preference for divestitures to resolve outstanding competition issues.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.