March 5, 2019 - Institute's Congressional Briefing on Sprint-TMobile Merger Spotlights Tough Questions on Wireless Competition & Future of 5G

The Institute today hosted a packed briefing for Congressional staff, press and members of the public on the proposed $26 billion Sprint-TMobile merger, which is currently undergoing regulatory review.

The briefing brought together two former FCC Commissioners, Mignon Clyburn and Robert McDowell, representatives for the merging companies, and opponents of the deal for a rigorous conversation moderated by Institute Director Alexandra Givens.

Commissioner McDowell, now a partner at Cooley LLP advising the merging parties, faced off in a 25-minute debate with David Goodfriend, counsel to Dish Network and Communications Network of America, which both oppose the deal.

A subsequent panel featured Commissioner Clyburn (now advising T-Mobile), Seth Bloom of Bloom Strategic Counsel (counsel to Sprint), Yosef Getachew of Common Cause and Ben Moncrief of C Spire, a regional wireless provider. The latter two organizations both oppose the deal.

The conversation covered the merger’s potential benefits for expanding 5G coverage in the United States, which Sprint and T-Mobile claim will advance exponentially if the merger goes ahead. Opponents challenged whether the merger would actually lead to those touted benefits, noting that Sprint’s mid-band spectrum assets would not advance T-Mobile’s strength in rural areas, where low-band spectrum is required.

Opponents also raised concerns about several different ways the merger would reduce competition—an argument Sprint and T-Mobile countered by saying the merger was needed for both entities to compete with behemoths Verizon and AT&T. Emphasizing the potential impact on low-income communities, Yosef Getachew of Common Cause noted the merger’s effects for pre-paid mobile services, as Sprint’s Boost Mobile and T-Mobile’s MetroPCS would come under single ownership. Ben Moncrief of C Spire likewise noted the potential impact on regional carriers and Mobile Virtual Network Operators, which rely on wholesale contracts with the four major nationwide wireless carriers to deliver service to their customers. Countering these points, Sprint and T-Mobile argued that the merger’s synergies would cause 5G coverage to expand so greatly that the New T-Mobile would have every incentive to enter into wholesale agreements and keep prices low.

The briefing came as the House Judiciary Committee announced a hearing on the deal, scheduled for March 12. The House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing late last month.

Our Distinguished Fellow Gigi Sohn will testify at the House Judiciary Committee hearing next week. Follow us on Twitter @GtownTechLaw for future updates.

(From L): Institute Director Alexandra Givens, Seth Bloom, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Ben Moncrief & Yosef Getachew during Tuesday’s panel

(From L): Institute Director Alexandra Givens, Seth Bloom, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Ben Moncrief & Yosef Getachew during Tuesday’s panel