T-Mobile-Sprint Deal Gets Some Tunney Act Pushback

Critics said deal does not pass public interest test
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The T-Mobile-Sprint merger continues to wend its way through the regulatory maze while deal opponents continue to try and stop it from finding the exit.

Sprint executive chairman Marcelo Claure and T-Mobile CEO John Legere

The Justice Department has signed off on the deal, with conditions, but a federal court still has to sign off on those conditions to make sure they are in the public interest. Usually that court approval--per the Tunney Act--is mostly pro-forma, but there is still a comment process and deal critics have been making their case there.

Meanwhile, the FCC's three Republican commissioners have approved the deal per its public interest review, but they have to give the two Democrats time to cast their votes, even if the outcome is already determined. An FCC spokesperson had no comment on when that vote would end. The Republican votes trigger must-vote status for the Dems, but they have several weeks, plus a customary few more that can be granted by the chairman.

Weighing in on that Tunney Act review last week was New America’s Open Technology Institute, which asked the court to pause its review until a state lawsuit against the merger has been resolved.

“The courts should block this merger. It would be a disaster for consumers, the wireless market, and the digital divide. The Trump Administration’s convoluted remedy is not a serious solution to these anticompetitive harms, and it won’t work," said Joshua Stager, senior counsel for OTI.

That "convoluted" solution is primarily to spin off Boost Mobil to Dish to seed a fourth facilities-based carrier, though it will start off having to lease capacity from an established player.

OTI suggests that allowing the Big Four--AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile--to become the Big Three in hopes that Dish will grown pre-paid Boost Mobile into a fourth facilities-based carrier. Is for the birds, literally.

"A bird in the hand is wort two in the bush," it told the court. "But here, the DOJ is proposing that we give up the bird we have today in the hope that it eventually flies back."

The Communications Workers of America agrees the Dish spin-off does not pass the public interest smell test.

In CWA's Tunney filing, CWA said that "a complex remedy that carries a high risk of failure and exposes the public to substantial economic harm if it fails is not in the ‘public interest." 

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