Dems urge regulators to reject T-Mobile, Sprint merger

A group of eight Democratic senators on Tuesday sent lengthy letters to the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice (DOJ) spelling out the reasons why they want regulators to reject the proposed $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint.

The senators sent the 6,000-word letters one day before the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees are set to hold hearings examining the proposed merger, which has divided Democrats and aggravated antitrust advocates.

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The letters raise concerns that the merger, which would combine two of the nation's four largest mobile carriers, could harm consumers and workers by decreasing competition and creating higher costs for customers.

"For more than 30 years, our enforcers have understood that fostering robust competition in telecommunications markets is the best way to provide every American with access to high-quality, cutting-edge communications at a reasonable price," the senators wrote. "This merger will turn the clock back, returning Americans to the dark days of heavily consolidated markets and less competition, with all of the resulting harms."

The initiative was led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Four of the eight senators who signed onto the letter have announced 2020 Democratic presidential bids — Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Trump's 2020 campaign strategy is to be above the law MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Warren introduces universal child care legislation MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate MORE (D-Minn.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren introduces universal child care legislation Warren introduces universal child care legislation Booker responds to Trump's mass deportation threat: 'This is not who we are' MORE (D-N.J.) — while two have said they are eyeing bids — Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE (I-Vt.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project Maxine Waters calls on Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project MORE (D-Ohio). The other signatories are Senate Commerce Committee members Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Trump planning Air Force One flyover during July 4 celebration at Mall: report Trump planning Air Force One flyover during July 4 celebration at Mall: report MORE (D-N.M.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenators weigh potential security risks from Chinese-made drones Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (D-Mass.).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing about the merger on Wednesday while the House Judiciary Committee will hold a separate hearing on Thursday.

T-Mobile's CEO and president, John Legere; Sprint's executive chairman, Marcelo Claure; and the president of the country's largest communications and media labor union, Communications Workers of America, along with other advocates and critics of the deal, are set to testify on Wednesday. 

The deal does not need congressional approval, but its detractors in Congress have urged the FCC or DOJ to block the merger. 

In their letters, the senators wrote that the merger would amount to a "sharp blow to competition in the telecommunications industry," raising concerns that the deal would "eliminate competition that has been shown to benefit consumers and stifle the emergence of new carriers." 

They cited studies that have estimated the merger will lead to higher monthly payments for customers.

The companies have argued that the merger could help them better compete with Verizon and AT&T in deploying the next-generation wireless networks known as 5G.

The senators in the letter disputed this argument, writing that both T-Mobile and Sprint had previously announced individual plans to roll out their own 5G networks.

"T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s sudden claims that neither can create a competitive 5G network separately flies in the face of announcements, disclosures, and marketing to consumers and investors over the past two years," they wrote.

The letters are a bold message to regulators as T-Mobile and Spring ramp up their merger push. 

Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooPro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment Hillicon Valley: Court rejects Chelsea Manning appeal | Facebook hires lawyer who helped write Patriot Act | Senator seeks details on Russian interference in Florida | Amazon hiring alcohol lobbyist | Ex-Obama aide lobbying for Sprint, T-Mobile merger MORE (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at the end of January released a letter with a bipartisan group of lawmakers lauding the proposed deal. The lawmakers, including six Republicans and six Democrats, wrote that they support T-Mobile and Sprint combining their "spectrum resources" to "deliver a more robust wireless broadband network for consumers."

The FCC and DOJ did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

Legere recently pledged that T-Mobile and Sprint would not raise prices for consumers for at least three years.

"A three year rate lock is an inadequate short-term solution to the long-term structural problem that the merger will create," the senators wrote in the letters released Tuesday. "Only competitive market pressures can keep rates down over the long run, not temporary rate caps."

"The bottom line is that no such commitments would be necessary if the Department of Justice blocks this merger and allows the market to continue disciplining consumer costs," they added.

Updated at 1:30 p.m.