Thursday, December 05, 2019

State AGs Should End the T-Mobile/Sprint Lawsuit and Make Way for 5G

In late November, Texas and Nevada became the two latest states to withdraw from the antitrust lawsuit challenging the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The case is thin on the merits, and the FCC's order approving the merger recognizes the benefits that the combined T-Mobile/Sprint's nationwide 5G network will provide consumers. Now that several states have joined the U.S. Department of Justice's proposed settlement regarding T-Mobile/Sprint, the remaining State Attorneys General should withdraw their lawsuit. 

The U.S. is in a tight race to 5G with China, and every opportunity for advancing 5G services at home should be pursued. Analysts such as Accenture Strategies project that 5G networks will provide average speeds at least ten times faster than 4G LTE networks and provide peak speeds perhaps 100 times faster. Advanced 5G networks will enable smart-city applications, as well as precision agriculture, industrial, and other uses. Importantly, the T-Mobile/Sprint merger will fast-track nationwide 5G coverage. In its November 2019 order approving T-Mobile/Sprint, the FCC found that the merger "will enable deployment of a more robust, nationwide 5G network than either standalone company could deploy on its own." 

Due to the consumer welfare benefits of more rapid and widespread 5G rollout, the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is well positioned to succeed in court against the remaining State AGs. Although the State AGs' take the position that T-Mobile/Sprint merger isn't necessary for 5G deployment in the U.S., that position amounts to little more than state government lawyers' second-guessing of the investment-backed business judgment of wireless carriers in a highly competitive market. As the FCC's order approving the merger recognized: "Sprint has not widely deployed its 2.5 GHz spectrum assets and our technical analysis predicts that on a standalone basis it would fail to cover nearly half of the country with 5G services on its 2.5 GHz spectrum, even assuming it has the financial ability to reach its previously planned deployment level." The Free State Foundation's reply comments in the merger proceeding as well as a May 2019 blog by Free State Foundation President Randolph May identify Sprint's significant financial debt as well as its streak of annual revenue declines dating back to 2013. 

Moreover, the State AGs' amended complaint allegation that the merger would substantially lessen competition rests on a largely static and unduly narrow picture of today's dynamic mobile market. It downplays the increased competition that the New T-Mobile will pose to current market leaders AT&T and Verizon. Additionally, the State AGs' complaint downplays competition from regional and local wireless providers, as well as competition from entrants Charter and Comcast. As of the third quarter of 2019, those two hybrid/MVNO providers served nearly 800,000 and nearly 1.8 million subscribers, respectively, with continued subscriber increases widely expected. DISH Network also has plans in the works to launch a nationwide mobile wireless network. And DISH's acquisition of Sprint's Boost prepaid brand makes it even more difficult for the State AG's to show that the merger would harm the prepaid market segment. 

Texas and Nevada are not the only states that have withdrawn from the State AGs' antitrust lawsuit against T-Mobile/Sprint. Colorado and Mississippi withdrew in October 2019. Ten states have instead joined with the Justice Department in a proposed settlement with T-Mobile and Sprint.

Now it's time for the remaining 14 State AGs should end their lawsuit and make way for 5G.