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 GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate Gillibrand unveils mental health plan MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-Minn.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-N.J.) — while two have said they are eyeing bids — Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (I-Vt.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBank watchdogs approve rule to loosen ban on risky Wall Street trades Dayton mayor assigned extra security following verbal spat with Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (D-Ohio). The other signatories are Senate Commerce Committee members Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Republicans should get behind the 28th Amendment New Mexico says EPA abandoned state in fight against toxic 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-N.M.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMoulton drops out of presidential race after struggling to gain traction Joseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs 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 — 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 House bill targets use of Pentagon networks for child pornography 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.