The Minority Media and Telecommunications council has asked
the FCC to collect additional information from SoftBank on its commitment to
diversity before it decides whether to let it acquire Sprint, which includes
the spectrum Sprint recently acquired from the Clearwire cable consortium.
MMTC points out that the deal would create the largest
broadband spectrum holding in U.S. history. "It has the potential to have
a significant impact on minority communities, who constitute almost 40% of the
users of mobile services and are often more highly dependent on mobile
communications services than other groups in this country."
It also says SoftBank's public interest statement was
essentially mute on the diversity issue, and suggested it was giving SoftBank a
chance to quickly -- MMTC said it would take only a day or two -- to flesh out
its record on diversity issues. MMTC offered up a
series of questions that the FCC should want answers to.
Sprint has countered that the request, which was made in a
May 28 letter to FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, is a "flagrantly
untimely" attempt to introduce additional issues that MMTC had the
opportunity to raise in initial comments, but did not.
Diversity and broadband access to minority populations, who
are particularly heavy users of mobile broadband, are two important issues for
Sprint also points out that the letter came on the 179th
day of the FCC's informal 180-day shot clock on vetting the transaction. "MMTC has tossed a handful of darts at the well-developed record of this proceeding in the hope that one hits," the company said.
In response, MMTC said Tuesday that "rather than
criticize MMTC's letter, SoftBank should take advantage of the opening provided
by our letter to quickly fill in these key gaps in the public record."
MMTC said it is not taking a position on the deal, but added
that if SoftBank does not "flesh out" its diversity commitment, that
"may compel the agency to conclude that the company either cannot or will
not address these important public interest issues....Any party proposing to
acquire this country's third largest wireless carrier should be ready and
willing to answer these basic questions going to diversity and service to
historically unserved and underserved communities."
MMTC said it had put the same questions to Dish, which has
made a counter offer for Sprint.
MMTC did not directly address the charge that it
should have raised the issue in the initial comment period, but did say that
"MMTC hopes that, instead of attempting to divert the Commission's
attention with formulaic arguments as to timing, SoftBank realizes that it is
asking the Commission to be let into a select group...Years later, when our
children look back on this episode, the 'when and how' these questions were
raised will not matter. Shot clocks won't be mentioned. Instead, what will
endure is how these questions were answered, and the impact of the actions
taken attendant to them on consumer welfare and competition."