Senate Democrats Urge FCC To Hold Off Approving T-Mobile Merger

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling on Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to put the brakes on a plan to approve T-Mobile's $26-billion acquisition of Sprint.

“We have major antitrust concerns regarding the impact of the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger on consumers, competition, and the public interest,” eight Senate Democrats stated in a letter sent to Pai on Friday.

The lawmakers, presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), are asking Pai to seek comments from the public before officially signing off on the merger.

The letter comes two days after Pai circulated a draft order approving the deal. He stated that the merger will help bring 5G wireless broadband to rural areas.

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The proposed deal can only move forward if it's cleared by both the FCC and the courts.

Late last month, the Justice Department endorsed the takeover, but with the condition that T-Mobile and Sprint divest some assets to satellite provider Dish Network. Dish would then be positioned to enter the wireless market, effectively replacing Sprint as a fourth major carrier.

That proposed settlement is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly in the District of Columbia. Separately, attorneys general representing 15 states and the District of Columbia are suing in federal court in New York to block the merger on antitrust grounds.

As originally proposed, the deal would have left the country with just three major mobile carriers -- Verizon, AT&T and the newly merged T-Mobile/Sprint  -- all roughly the same size. Critics of that original deal argued that the consolidation would have led to higher prices for consumers, poorer service and fewer incentives for the carriers to invest in their networks.

Klobuchar and the other Senate Democrats said Friday that they are concerned that the Justice Department's proposed settlement terms are too risky.

“The settlement attempts to resolve the competitive concerns with the merger by promising U.S. leadership in 5G by replacing Sprint -- an established wireless carrier with a history of aggressive pricing -- with that of a new carrier created out of Dish, a satellite TV company with no existing mobile network infrastructure, a bundle of spectrum assets, and multi-year service agreements with the merged company,” the lawmakers write. “The risk posed to consumers if Dish Network fails to compete effectively or build its new wireless business is substantial.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, also called on the agency to seek comments from the public about the deal.

“I am not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to better outcomes for consumers,” she said on Twitter. “But what I am convinced of is that before the @FCC votes on this new deal negotiated by Washington, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in and comment. Too much here has been done behind closed doors.”

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