FCC's T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Shot Clock Still Running...Sort of

What is the status of the FCC's T-Mobile-Sprint 180-day merger review shot clock?  

Deal watchers could be forgiven for being confused. According to the FCC website, the clock on the FCC's review continues to run, currently on day 332 of the FCC's merger review, but looks can be deceiving. 

This Nov. 1 screen shot shows the FCC's merger clock continuing to run; it will eventually be back dated

This Nov. 1 screen shot shows the FCC's merger clock continuing to run; it will eventually be back dated

Actually, the review has been completed and the merger approved by a vote of 3-2 Oct. 16. The Republicans voted early and the Democrats eventually weighed in with their dissents. So while Oct. 16 was the official approval, the deal even then already had garnered the three votes it needed to pass.

Related: Petition Filed to Delay T-Mobile-Sprint Decision 

But in regulation, as in sports, it ain't over 'til its over. 

The FCC has yet to release the item, to which the merger review clock is tied. Some redactions were needed (to protect competitively sensitive info, for example) and commissioners are given some time after a vote to craft their official statements. Then the chairman gets some time to craft a response, if he chooses, before the vote is official. 

A source said the item should be released soon, while an FCC official said that when that happens, the clock will be "retroactively stopped to the day the vote was final [Oct. 16]." Which the official said is consistent with past practice.  

The deal, which was filed with regulators almost a year ago, still won't close, even though the Justice Department has already reached an agreement that resolves its antitrust issues with the merger. A bunch of states have challenged the Justice Department's settlement with the companies and T-Mobile has pledged not to close the deal until "six days" after that court case is resolved.  

So, although the FCC has completed its review of the merger, the merger review clock continues to tick on. And, although both the FCC and Justice have said they are OK with the deal closing, it won't be closing anytime soon. The trial in the state challenge does not even begin until Dec. 9.

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.