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 GillibrandDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Progressive activist Ady Barkan endorses Biden, urges him to pick Warren as VP Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Minn.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs New Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries MORE (D-N.J.) — while two have said they are eyeing bids — Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' Ex-Sanders campaign manager talks unity efforts with Biden backers The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention MORE (I-Vt.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers On The Money: Mnuchin, Powell differ over how soon economy will recover | Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress | IRS chief pledges to work on tax code's role in racial wealth disparities IRS chief pledges to work with Congress on examining tax code's role in racial wealth disparities MORE (D-Ohio). The other signatories are Senate Commerce Committee members Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHispanic Democrats build capital with big primary wins Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer MORE (D-N.M.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday The Hill's Campaign Report: Jacksonville mandates face coverings as GOP convention approaches Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary 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 EshooDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Why drug costs for older Americans should be capped in pandemic's wake Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse 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.