T-Mobile, Sprint Respond to NTCA’s Call for Merger Delay
In response to an informal request for action filed August 5, 2019, by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and the Rural Wireless Association asking that the commission seek additional comment on the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the two wireless companies on August 9, 2019, filed a joint opposition to the petitioners’ request seeking additional comment on the proposed merger.
T-Mobile and Sprint said in their filing that NTCA and other petitioners “have articulated no credible basis that could plausibly justify yet another delay in commission action in this proceeding,” noting that the license transfer applications associated with the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint have been pending for over 415 days.
“During the course of this proceeding, the applicants have submitted an unprecedented amount of documentary material and other granular data on, among other topics, the applicants’ business operations, product offerings, business plan for New T-Mobile, 5G network plans and modeling, customer transition plans, agreements with other carriers, and economic modeling. There have also been multiple rounds of comments and third parties have submitted an enormous number of comments and ex parte filings. The resulting record before the Commission is comprehensive and complete, and it is time for the commission to act.”
Addressing NTCA’s concerns about the merger now involving a third party, Dish Network, T-Mobile and Sprint said, “The terms of the consent decree do not affect the ability of the applicants to meet or exceed their representations and commitments to the commission regarding the New T-Mobile business and 5G network deployment or achieve the competitive and consumer benefits that have already been extensively detailed in the record. … Indeed, the consent decree’s requirements for an expanded divestiture of prepaid assets to DISH, an entity with significant spectrum holdings and which has now made extensive 5G broadband build-out commitments to the FCC, will ensure the creation of substantial additional 5G capacity and wireless competition.”
The joint opposition filing from T-Mobile and Sprint also addressed a separate informal request for commission action filed August 8, 2019, by the Rural Wireless Association.
On August 14, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft order that would approve the proposed merger.
NTCA and RWA plan to respond to the joint opposition.
Public Interest, Labor Reps Join NTCA in Seeking Additional Comment on T-Mobile, Sprint Merger
In meetings August 12, 2019, with Will Adams and Andrew Magloughlin, legal adviser and intern to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, and Umair Javed, legal adviser to Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association joined with public interest and labor representatives to express continuing concerns about the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint.
During the meetings, the group expressed its support for earlier letters, including one from NTCA and the Rural Wireless Association, seeking public comment on recent developments in the T-Mobile/Sprint transaction.
“The DOJ Consent Decree and the DISH waiver and extension requests represent significant changes to the original transaction and raise new and important public interest and competition issues related to execution risk; operational, technical, managerial, and financial capability of the divested party; enforcement provisions; economic incentives; and jobs,” the group wrote. “The MVNO agreement between DISH and T-Mobile is central to the analysis of the transaction, yet the MVNO agreement has not been submitted into the record nor subject to public comment. Given the extraordinary nature of these developments, failure to seek public comment on these inextricably interrelated developments would be a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.”
The group also said the T-Mobile/Sprint response to the objections of NTCA and others to the merger “fails to address the substantive issues raised by the rural providers.”
Joining NTCA for the meetings were representatives from the Communications Workers of America; Public Knowledge; Free Press; Common Cause; and Open Technology Institute. Carri Bennet of the Rural Wireless Association joined the second meeting by telephone.
Democratic Presidential Candidates Unveil Rural Broadband Proposals
Several elected officials seeking the Democratic nomination for president ahead of the 2020 election have unveiled rural-broadband proposals in recent days:
Elizabeth Warren: In a Medium post, “My Plan for Rural America,” Warren called for “a public option for broadband” through a new $85 billion federal grant program. “Under my plan, only electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, counties and other state subdivisions will be eligible for grants from this fund—and all grants will be used to build the fiber infrastructure necessary to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas, underserved areas, or areas with minimal competition,” Warren wrote. “The federal government will pay 90 cents on the dollar for construction under these grants. In exchange, applicants will be required to offer high-speed public broadband directly to every home in their application area. Applicants will have to offer at least one plan with 100 Mbps/100 Mbps speeds and one discount internet plan for low-income customers with a prepaid feature or a low monthly rate. Of these funds, $5 billion will be set aside specifically for 100% federal grants to tribal nations to expand broadband access on Native American lands. In addition to necessary ‘last mile’ infrastructure, tribes will be able to apply for funds to build the missing 8,000 miles of middle mile fiber on tribal lands.”
Amy Klobuchar: In an Medium post, “Senator Klobuchar’s Plan From the Heartland: Strengthening our Agricultural and Rural Communities,” Klobuchar’s campaign reiterated the senator’s earlier call to connect every household in America to the internet by 2022. “She will focus on creating accurate broadband maps to identify areas that lack adequate access, bringing high-speed internet infrastructure to areas most in need, including by expanding Rural Utility Service [sic] grants, and providing greater incentives for existing providers to upgrade their networks to cover unserved and underserved areas,” the post said. “She will also work to quickly implement the recommendations of the Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force to help farmers fully realize the potential of broadband in their operations.” The plan also includes “work to expand broadband deployment on tribal lands including working to restore the Tribal Lifeline program.”
Pete Buttigieg: Pete Buttigieg said he would “ensure full high-speed broadband coverage” through an $80 billion “Internet for All” initiative during his first term in office. According to a Buttigieg campaign fact sheet, “Where companies have not provided coverage or it is unaffordable, his administration will fight to create a public option to compete with these companies and make access affordable for communities being left behind. But he will not stop there. His plan will also invest in promising technologies, such as next-generation wireless, commercial satellites and smart infrastructure to ensure that rural America’s competitive revival extends through the next generation.”
Kirsten Gillibrand: In a Medium post, “Rebuilding Rural America for Our Future,” Gillibrand promises to invest $60 billion to connect all rural Americans to high-speed internet, including next generation gigabit systems. “I will get the job done working with private providers, states, rural electric cooperatives, broadband cooperatives, and community broadband networks,” she wrote. “This investment will be directed by detailed, accurate broadband service maps that reflect actual service availability.”
Notes in the News for August 15, 2019
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement on August 14 in reaction to news that AT&T and T-Mobile are beginning to roll out the exchange of call authentication information between their two networks based on the SHAKEN/STIR framework.
In an August 9 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the FCC’s attempt to expedite 5G rollout by exempting such cell sites from environmental impact and historic preservation review. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr issued a statement highlighting provisions of the commission’s infrastructure decision that were upheld.
The FCC on August 12 authorized $121 million in funding for rural broadband in 16 states. It also issued a separate announcement about $16.2 million in funding for rural broadband in upstate New York.
The next meeting of the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council will be held September 18, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement on the launch of a new Fraud Division within the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. That bureau also announced a settlement on August 13 with CenturyLink to resolve an investigation into the company’s placement of unauthorized third-party charges and fees onto consumers’ bills.
NTCA Vice President of Policy Joshua Seidemann provided a high-cost program update and took part in a federal update panel on August 14 at the Nevada Telecommunications Association Annual Conference in South Lake Tahoe, Nev.
NTCA Director of Industry Affairs Brian Ford gave a talk, “Challenges and Opportunities for Rural Carriers in the Regulatory and Legislative Space,” August 15 at the 2019 BKD Telecommunication Accounting Seminar in Coralville, Iowa.