T-Mobile US Inc. won US antitrust approval for its US$26 billion takeover of rival Sprint Corp., clearing a major hurdle to a deal that merges the nation’s third and fourth largest wireless carriers, Reuters reports.
The companies have agreed to divest Sprint’s prepaid businesses, including Boost Mobile, to satellite television firm Dish Network Corp. to create a fourth US wireless carrier.
The US Justice Department indicated on Friday the deal would improve competition and the rollout of faster 5G networks by combining weaker players and creating a strong, new No. 4, in Dish, that has unused spectrum, which can be activated.
Critics, including some state attorneys general, say competition won’t increase and prices for mobile phone plans will rise.
The deal is a clear success for T-Mobile chief executive John Legere, who will be the CEO of the combined company and who pushed back at critics arguing a more concentrated market would lead to higher prices.
“It’s a bit dumbfounding to think that we’ve decided to go and build this network and go through this merger so that we can become the basic, lazy, fat, dumb and arrogant players that we were born to teach how to behave,” Legere told analysts in a conference call.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said the deal would hasten the development of 5G, the next generation of wireless.
But the deal still faces a significant challenge: A group of US state attorneys general, including from New York and California, have sued to block the merger on antitrust grounds, arguing the proposed deal would cost consumers more than US$4.5 billion annually.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James indicated the lawsuit would continue, at least in part because of what critics see as Dish’s failure to live up to pledges it had made.
“We have serious concerns that cobbling together this new fourth mobile player, with the government picking winners and losers, will not address the merger’s harm to consumers, workers, and innovation,” she said.
The Justice Department, backed by five state attorneys general, said the deal required the merging companies to sell Virgin Mobile and Sprint’s prepaid business and provide Dish with access to 20,000 cell sites and hundreds of retail locations.
Prepaid wireless phones are generally sought by lower-income people who cannot pass a credit check.
Dish has agreed to acquire spectrum, or airwaves that carry data, in a deal valued at US$3.6 billion from the merged firm and pay US$1.4 billion for Sprint’s prepaid business that serves about 9.3 million customers. Dish will get access to the new T-Mobile’s network for seven years while it builds its own 5G network.
T-Mobile and Dish are also required to work out a deal where T-Mobile can use Dish’s unused 600 MHz spectrum and the companies are required to use eSIM, which allows consumers to switch easily between carriers, a Justice Department official said.
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