At recent hearings before the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees, Republicans asked pointed questions about how the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would impact Rural America.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure tried to pull magenta-colored wool over the Republicans’ eyes by making vague promises riddled with loopholes. These Republicans from Virginia, Oregon, Indiana, North Dakota, and so many other states are right to ask questions. All of rural America should reject the hype that the T-Mobile/Sprint merger somehow will solve the rural wireless access problem. It won’t.
Today’s wireless carriers have failed to provide Rural America with adequate coverage. A quick glance at wireless providers’ customer service online group chats shows just how dissatisfied rural Americans are with their lack of coverage. The digital divide between rural and urban America is one issue that transcends partisanship. During those House hearings, Democrats from Vermont to New Mexico pointed to carriers’ false claims that rural households can get service; like their Republican colleagues, these Members of Congress are asking questions and demanding solutions.
Despite claims that their proposed merger would solve the rural access problem, T-Mobile and Sprint’s promises just don’t add up. T-Mobile today has more than enough wireless spectrum to blanket America’s rural communities with high-speed wireless internet, yet it has failed to do so. Sprint holds licenses suited to urban areas but combining those assets with T-Mobile’s does not change the hard, cold fact that the high cost of providing fiber backhaul and a sufficient number of cell sites makes rural wireless coverage difficult. The merger would not change that. T-Mobile's own filings at the FCC indicate that six years after the merger 46 million Americans, mostly in rural areas, will not have access to their high-speed wireless network.
In fact, the T-Mobile/Sprint merger could make things worse for rural America. Today, small rural wireless providers rely on Sprint for fair, reasonable roaming agreements that allow a small carrier to partner with bigger players and provide subscribers with service when they travel. By contrast, small carriers complain that T-Mobile often refuses to enter reasonable roaming agreements. These small, rural carriers fear that if T-Mobile takes over Sprint, they will have fewer options for roaming agreements, probably resulting in higher rates and worse service for rural Americans. According to several filings at the FCC, T-Mobile has ignored the needs of Rural Americans for more than 20 years and shows no signs of changing that business strategy post-merger.
Rural Americans deserve more than empty promises from massive, foreign-owned companies like T-Mobile (owned by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom) and Sprint (owned by Japan’s Softbank) that probably will send profits back to headquarters before spending the resources to better serve rural households. Rather than put American farmers, ranchers, and small rural communities out to pasture, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, F.C.C., and state attorneys general should put Americans — especially rural Americans — first. They should reject the T-Mobile/Sprint merger.
Bradley A. Blakeman is a principal at The 1600 Group consultants, an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University, a former member of President George W. Bush’s senior staff, and a former president of Freedom Watch. Some of his past and current clients oppose the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, including DISH Network and the Communications Workers of America.
Bradley Blakeman was a member of President George W. Bush's senior White House staff from 2001 to 2004. He is also a frequent contributor to Fox News and Fox Business Channel. He currently is a Principal with the 1600group.com a consulting company. — Click Here Now.
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