T-Mobile-Sprint Critics Pan Pai's 'Policy by Press Release'

Critics of the T-Mobile-Sprint deal were not happy with FCC chair Ajit Pai's public seal of approval on the deal Monday (May 20) which came after the companies volunteered a raft of conditions and one spin-off--Boost Mobile--that Pai said made the deal acceptable, at least to him and likely at least the other two Republicans.

The deal is not done--the other commissioners have to vote and Justice has not signed off on its antitrust review. But Pai likely has at least the other two votes of the Republican commissioners--or he might not have so publicly announced, something of an unusual move. And the FCC usually coordinates its review with Justice or at least is in contact with them about it.

The fact that T-Mobile will spin off Boost Mobile and pledge provide it with wholesale access to the network such that it is competitive, probably helps with the Justice approval.

"This is not a surprise insofar as it has been the most likely scenario if the deal were to be approved," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Georgetown University Law Center. "However, I was among those guessing that he likelihood of approval was about 50/50, so any agreement is something of a surprise.

"It is possible, but rather unlikely, that DOJ will still oppose the deal. However, that is not the end of it, as it is also quite possible that one or more states will challenge the transaction.

"While those obstacles remain, the odds of ultimate approval are now very high. I fear this means higher prices."

Evan Greer, executive director of Fight For the Future, was not surprised either, she suggested, but was still in a fighting mood.

“Ajit Pai doesn’t even try to pretend that he works for the public," she said. "He seems to take smug pleasure in being a blatant telecom shill. No one is surprised by today’s announcement, but we will keep fighting to block this merger –– which simply put will lead to crappier, more expensive Internet for millions of people.

"In an attempt to sell the deal, the carriers have agreed to several conditions, which fall far short of addressing the harm the merger will cause. Read more from our friends at Free Press here."

Free Press general counsel Matt Wood was not buying the conditions as ameliorating their competition concerns. He made the following statement:

“The conditions proposed in yet another policy-by-press-release Pai statement would do nothing to alleviate this deal’s obvious harms, especially to low-income populations, communities of color and anyone seeking a more affordable price for essential wireless communications," he said.

“Chairman Pai crows that the companies’ so-called deal commitments would help close the digital divide and spur 5G deployment. But these speculative conditions wouldn’t move the needle on either score. In fact, the merger would just make things worse, as Free Press research and the record before the FCC demonstrate."

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.