WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators have approved T-Mobile's $26.5 billion takeover of rival Sprint, despite fears of higher prices and job cuts, in a deal that would leave just three major cellphone companies in the country.
Friday's approval from the Justice Department and five state attorneys general comes after Sprint and T-Mobile agreed to conditions that would set up satellite-TV provider Dish as a smaller rival to Verizon, AT&T and the combined T-Mobile-Sprint company. The Justice Department's antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, said the conditions set up Dish "as a disruptive force in wireless."
But attorneys general from other states and public-interest advocates say that Dish is hardly a replacement for Sprint as a stand-alone company and that the conditions fail to address the competitive harm the deal causes: higher prices, job losses and fewer choices for consumers.
"By signing off on this merger, the Justice Department has done nothing to remedy the short- and long-term harms the loss of an independent Sprint will create for U.S. wireless users," Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner said.
A federal judge still must sign off on the approval, as the two companies' settlement with Justice includes conditions for them. The Federal Communications Commission is expected to also give the takeover its blessing.
Dish is paying $5 billion for Sprint's prepaid cellphone brands including Boost and Virgin Mobile - about 9 million customers - and some spectrum, or airwaves for wireless service, from the two companies. Dish also will be able to rent T-Mobile's network for seven years while it builds its own.
Dish on Friday promised the FCC that it would build a nationwide network using next-generation "5G" technology by June 2023. But Dish is promising speeds that are only slightly higher than what's typical today, even though 5G promises the potential for blazing speeds.
Mergers between direct competitors have historically had a higher bar to clear at the Justice Department.
Sprint and T-Mobile combined would now approach the size of Verizon and AT&T. The companies have argued that bulking up will mean a better next-generation "5G" wireless network than either could build on its own. Sprint and T-Mobile have argued for over a year that having one big company to challenge AT&T and Verizon, rather than two smaller companies, will be better for U.S. consumers.