The Justice Department is pressing a federal judge to approve T-Mobile's proposed $26.5 billion acquisition of Sprint, provided that the companies divest some assets to Dish Network.
The merger and divestiture plan “promises to expand output in the mobile wireless market and be a boon for American consumers,” the Justice Department writes in papers filed Wednesday with U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly in the District of Columbia.
The administration adds that the plan “will enable Dish to enter the market as a new 5G mobile wireless services provider and a fourth nationwide facilities-based wireless carrier.”
Among other conditions, the plan requires T-Mobile and Sprint to divest Sprint's pre-paid businesses, as well as some spectrum assets, to Dish. T-Mobile also must allow its network to be used by Dish for seven years, during which time Dish will build its own network.
If the deal closes, the country will be left with only three major mobile carriers, all around the same size -- Verizon, AT&T and the newly merged T-Mobile/Sprint.
Opponents of the deal say it's not clear whether Dish will be able to effectively replace Sprint as a fourth major carrier.
“Betting the future of wireless competition in this country on a shaky set of promises and hopes would not serve the American consumer,” the groups Public Knowledge, Consumer Reports, Electronic Frontier Foundation and New America's Open Technology Institute said in written comments filed with the Justice Department.
Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission issued its full order green-lighting the deal, which the agency approved last month by a 3-2 vote.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed support for the merger in May, after T-Mobile and Sprint promised to build out a 5G network that will extend to rural parts of the country -- many of which currently lack high-speed broadband access. The companies also agreed to refrain from price hikes for three years.
Despite the Justice Department and FCC decisions, the deal could still be blocked -- either by Kelly or as a result of a lawsuit by 16 attorneys general who oppose the merger on antitrust grounds.
That matter, pending in front of U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan, could go to trial later this year.
T-Mobile said Thursday that if the deal is approved, it will offer 10 years of free 5G to the police and other first responders, a new $15 monthly plan with unlimited voice and text and 2 GB of data, and up to 100 GB of free broadband data per year to 10 million low-income households.