Democratic commissioner questions FCC review of Sprint T-Mobile merger

June 12, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The senior Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday criticized the FCC’s review of the proposed $26.5 billion tie-up of Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc, saying Republican commissioners moved toward approving the merger without adequate economic and legal analysis.

“This is highly unusual. I have no economic analysis, legal analysis or paper before me and yet my colleagues have announced that they are going to support this transaction via press release,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, told the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing. “This is just the worst of what people expect from Washington. It looks like some backroom dealing.”

On May 20, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, recommended to his colleagues that they approve the deal. Commissioner Brendan Carr said he would vote to approve while the third Republican Mike O’Rielly said he was inclined to approve it.

Brian Hart, a spokesman for Pai, said “the chairman’s views and comments are based on the extensive public record that the commission has compiled over the last year.”

On Tuesday, 10 state attorneys general led by New York and California filed suit in New York against the firms and their parent companies Softbank Group Corp and Deutsche Telekom AG, seeking to block the merger which they say would hike consumer prices.

The Justice Department has not yet offered a view on whether the merger should proceed.

T-Mobile chief executive John Legere defended the deal after the attorney generals sued, saying on Twitter the “broad and deep nationwide 5G network we will build, is our best bet for America to truly compete on a global scale.”

Pai sent letters to some Democratic senators on Tuesday defending the review. Pai told Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, the agency followed a standard review process and was “more transparent” than usual by disclosing details of company commitments weeks before a formal order is circulated.

Some Democrats questioned the review and asked why Pai was not giving the public a chance to formally comment on the merger commitments.

Pai said he had no contact with anyone from the White House about the merger.

The FCC’s review process won backing from Republican senator Roy Blunt, who said the agency did not need to wait for the Justice Department.

“Not everybody agrees with the attorneys generals on this who frankly probably haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about this particular marketplace,” Blunt said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

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