Legere and Claure at FCC Again Selling T-Mobile, Sprint Merger

(Bloomberg) -- The leaders of T-Mobile US Inc. and its acquisition target Sprint Corp. returned to Washington to sell their $26.5 billion deal, as Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen, a potential rival, said he’ll watch how the tie-up of top-four mobile providers affects competition.

T-Mobile’s John Legere and Sprint’s Marcelo Claure met with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, said Brian Hart, an agency spokesman. Pai was traveling last week when the chief executive officers were in Washington meeting federal officials last week, following the April 29 announcement of their deal. Hart didn’t offer details.

Critics say the combination of the third- and fourth-largest wireless providers will reduce competition and raise prices for consumers.

“We will certainly monitor that situation with -- make sure that competition -- to the extent that that merger were to be approved in any way that the competition doesn’t take a back seat,” Ergen told investors. Dish holds licenses for airwaves that could be used for mobile service.

The merging companies say the deal will give them heft to quickly move into a new generation of mobile connections known as 5G, and stand up a robust competitor to the largest wireless providers Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

Investors have reason to be skeptical of regulatory success for the deal. Almost four years ago, a previous attempt to unite Sprint and T-Mobile was rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC. At the time, both agencies said that competition could be harmed if the number of national carriers shrank from four to three.

Leadership at each agency has changed following the election of President Donald Trump, and his appointee Pai has declined to say he’d forbid a reduction of nationwide mobile carriers from four to three.

Legere and Claure also met with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, said a person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting wasn’t public. With that and with meetings last week, the executives finished their rounds of FCC commissioners set to consider the deal. Mignon Clyburn, one of two agency Democrats, has announced her departure, leaving the agency with three Republicans and one Democrat.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.