FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger

FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday voted along party lines to approve the $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, the final move needed for the deal to secure the U.S. government's full blessing. 

Two sources familiar confirmed to The Hill that the merger has been approved, with the three Republicans on the commission voting in favor and the two Democrats dissenting. 

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But the merger is still facing a significant obstacle as a group of 17 state attorneys general forge ahead in their lawsuit to block the deal. The multistate lawsuit, announced over the summer, claims that the combined telecom giant would ramp up prices for consumers and result in significant job losses. 

Both Democratic FCC commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, said Wednesday that they voted against the deal, arguing that the merger will come at a steep price to consumers.

"In short, I believe that T-Mobile and Sprint have not proven that their merger will benefit the public interest," Starks said in a statement. "I hope for the sake of consumers that I am wrong. I fear that we will one day look back at this decision and recognize it as a moment that forever changed the U.S. wireless industry, and not for the better.”

The T-Mobile-Sprint merger will combine two of the country's largest mobile carriers into one company with more than 80 million U.S. customers. It will reduce the number of four major wireless carriers in the U.S. from four to three.  

In an Atlantic op-ed on Wednesday morning, Rosenworcel announced her vote against the deal, saying she believes it will "end a golden age in wireless that helped bring to market lower prices and more innovative services." 

"There’s no reason to think the mobile-phone industry will be different. Shrinking the number of national providers from four to three will hurt consumers, harm competition, and eliminate thousands of jobs," the Democrat wrote.

The order has not yet been released publicly. According to a source familiar with the process, the commissioners still have time to finalize their statements and put together the final draft, meaning the order may not come out for another few weeks.

The FCC's official go-ahead comes a few months after the Department of Justice formally approved the merger. The DOJ's settlement requires a slew of commitments from the companies to ease anti-competitive concerns, requiring T-Mobile and Sprint to hand over assets including wireless spectrum and subscribers to Dish, a satellite television company. Dish has been tapped to create a mobile network that will compete with the merged company. 

The FCC's order acknowledges the commitments the companies have made to the DOJ, but it argues that the FCC likely would have approved the merger even before that settlement.  

Republicans on the commission had previously signaled that they would approve the merger. Over the summer, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the two other Republicans said they backed combining the telecom companies.

On Wednesday, consumer advocates pressed the FCC over its decision not to put out changes to the order for public comment.

"Today’s decision is the culmination of one of the most irregular and opaque processes in FCC history," Gigi Sohn, a former adviser at the FCC under the Obama administration, said in a statement. 

Updated at 3:24 p.m.