Justice Department antitrust officials are edging closer to approving the $26 billion Sprint – T-Mobile merger, the New York Times reported. To me, this suggests the Trump administration’s preoccupation with winning the race to 5G rises above any concerns that the combination will harm consumers by reducing wireless competition.
As a condition of approval, Sprint would be required to sell enough assets to create a new wireless competitor, according to the Times report. The two companies have already promised to sell Boost, Sprint’s prepaid wireless brand. Potential buyers include Dish, Charter and Altice, the Times reported. Charter offers a mobile service using another company’s network but neither Dish nor Altice have significant experience competing in the mobile phone business.
News that the Justice Department may approve the deal comes just weeks after reports that the staffers at the DOJ had concluded that it should be blocked unless major concessions were made. In an effort to appeal to the Trump administration, Sprint and T-Mobile argued the combination would speed deployment of 5G and provide greater broadband coverage to underserved rural areas, both high priorities for the Trump administration.
In a highly unusual move, the Federal Communications Commission announced last month that it would approve the merger based on the companies’ promise that the combined entity would quickly roll out 5G services and increase coverage in rural areas.