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Justice Department green-lights T-Mobile US/Sprint merger

This might sound like the end of the road for one of the most protracted merger processes in recent memory, but T-Mobile US and Sprint will still have to deal with the backlog of legal challenges.

Although this is certainly a win for the duo, it did look ominous for quite a while and there are still a few legal challenges which will have to be dealt with. That said, this is a victory for T-Mobile US and Sprint, and a positive step-forward in the ambition to tackle the market dominance of AT&T and Verizon.

“With this merger and accompanying divestiture, we are expanding output significantly by ensuring that large amounts of currently unused or underused spectrum are made available to American consumers in the form of high quality 5G networks,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

“Today’s settlement will provide Dish with the assets and transitional services required to become a facilities-based mobile network operator that can provide a full range of mobile wireless services nationwide.”

In short, without the divestment of Sprint’s prepaid mobile business to Dish, the deal would not have gone ahead. What this announcement now creates is a merger player with a larger horde of spectrum ready to tackle the 5G era and a fourth player which can start to make use of the spectrum licenses it has been quietly accumulating over the last few years.

For Dish, deadlines were fast approaching. After securing various spectrum licenses in the mid- and high-band frequencies, authorities were starting to get a bit irate with the lack of action. Spectrum is a valuable resource in the digital economy and a threat had been made; make use of the assets or hand them back. The acquisition of the boost brand should allow Dish to make a run at the mobile world. It will now have seven years to make use of the T-Mobile/Sprint network while it deploys its own.

Of course, while the end is in sight there are still another couple of headaches to deal with.

Several State Attorney Generals have aired their grievances and filed a lawsuit opposing the deal. The primary concern here was the reduction of national telcos from four to three, though it seems they are still not happy with concessions made to create a fourth player in Dish.

“The promises made by Dish and T-Mobile in this deal are the kinds of promises only robust competition can guarantee,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has led the opposition.

“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.”

The coalition of State Attorney Generals have reaffirmed their opposition to the merger, questioning whether the formation of a new MNO which has no experience in managing a mobile network is a suitable replacement for Sprint. Elsewhere, the Rural Wireless Association is also opposing the approval.

“Expecting Dish, a start-up mobile carrier in its infancy, to be able to compete as a fourth nationwide network, with divested wireless assets from Sprint and T-Mobile and Boost MVNO customers, and subject only to a handful of requirements that will expire, spells disaster for American consumers,” the RWA said in a statement.

“Three years is not nearly enough time to launch a facilities-based network. Clearly, DOJ has no idea what it takes to build a competitive nationwide mobile network.”

Gaining approval from the Department of Justice might have been one of the more difficult tasks on this quest, but this is not the end of the road for T-Mobile US and Sprint.

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