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 Gillibrand2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' Three 2020 candidates have missed about half of Senate votes MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Feehery: Trump may be down, but he's not out yet MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Analysis: Warren and Booker most cyber-aware 2020 candidates Poll: Democratic support for Warren climbs to record high MORE (D-Minn.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill O'Rourke hits back at Buttigieg over criticism of his gun buyback proposal Progressives fume at Buttigieg, warn him not to attack Warren at debate MORE (D-N.J.) — while two have said they are eyeing bids — Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill On The Money: Trump touts China trade deal | Wall Street, Washington see signs for caution | Trump threatens sanctions on Turkey | Sanders proposes sharp hike to corporate taxes MORE (I-Vt.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBlood cancer patients deserve equal access to the cure Trump admin abruptly delays funding for human trafficking victims: report Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group MORE (D-Ohio). The other signatories are Senate Commerce Committee members Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallGreen groups line up behind Markey ahead of looming Kennedy fight Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Overnight Energy: Top Interior lawyer accused of lying to Congress confirmed | Senate set to deny funding for BLM move | EPA threatens to cut California highway funds MORE (D-N.M.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Ocasio-Cortez taps supporters for donations as former primary opponent pitches for Kennedy Rep. Joe Kennedy has history on his side in Senate bid 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 EshooOvernight Health Care: Public's view of drug companies sinks to record low in poll | NYC declares end to measles outbreak | Health advocates fear Planned Parenthood funding loss could worsen STD crisis Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Planned Parenthood ousts its president | Harris releases drug pricing plan | House Dem drug plan delayed until after recess Democratic chair: Medicare negotiating drug prices not moving before August 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.