The US Department of Justice announced on Friday that it has approved a proposed $ 26 billion plus merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, but with major concessions, and a lawsuit from 13 state prosecutors still pending.
Under the agreement, Sprint will have to dispose of several prepaid brands, including Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Both Sprint and T-Mobile leave some of the wireless spectrum to the Dish Network, along with 20,000 or more cell sites and hundreds of stores.
As expected, Dish will also have access to T-Mobil's network for seven years while building its own 5G services.
"With this merger and the associated disposal, we are expanding production significantly by ensuring large amounts of currently unused or under-used spectrum are being made available to US consumers in the form of high-quality 5G networks," DOJ antitrust manager Makan Delrahim wrote.
However, the merger cannot be finalized until a lawsuit from 13 public prosecutors general and the District of Columbia is concluded. A test date is set to October 7, although this date could be pushed as late as December 9.
It is also possible that the case can be settled out of court, since it is about lack of competition in the national wireless space. With Dish being supported as a replacement for Sprint, there may be no reason to continue.
"We are considering the announced settlement, but our bottom line is the same: protecting consumers and competition," said a spokesman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, speaking to CNBC .
Today's news was met with skepticism by the democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
"Today, the Ministry of Justice gave its blessing to the largest wireless merger in history," she wrote on Twitter. "I am skeptical that this combination is good for consumers, good for competition or good for the economy. Before the @FCC vote on this new deal, the audience should have the ability to weigh in and comment. Too much here is done behind closed doors. "
Sprint and T-Mobile have repeatedly tried to merge, and first tried in 2014, then again in 2017. The first instance collapsed due to regulatory problems – in the second case, Japan's SoftBank was reluctant to give up control over Sprint.
The current effort, so far the most successful, began over a year ago. The Republican-controlled FCC was relatively quick in shedding the merger, and did so in May 2019. As a condition, T-Mobile and Sprint agreed to improve rural coverage and build 5G networks.