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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 GillibrandGillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: The center strikes back Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Democrats have turned solidly against gas tax MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC MORE (D-Minn.), and Cory BookerCory BookerCongress must act to correct flaws in the First Step Act Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers MORE (D-N.J.) — while two have said they are eyeing bids — Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: The center strikes back Sanders against infrastructure deal with more gas taxes, electric vehicle fees Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Ohio). The other signatories are Senate Commerce Committee members Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate MORE (D-N.M.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyRon Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination 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 EshooHillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals FCC votes to advance proposed ban on Chinese telecom equipment Pharmaceutical industry donated to two-thirds of Congress ahead of 2020 elections: analysis 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.