Cyberlaw Clinical Professor of Law Susan Crawford writes about why small companies are supporting the T-Mobile/Sprint merger and what the consequences are for consumers if the merger occurs:
Last month, Reuters reported that T-Mobile was asking the small operators that resell T-Mobile’s excess network capacity to write letters and opinion pieces in support of the company’s proposed $36 billion merger with Sprint.
T-Mobile’s request wasn’t unusual. Trumping up support for deals that aren’t actually in the public interest is common practice in the swamp we know as US telecom policy. When Comcast was working on its merger with NBCU at the beginning of this decade, supportive comments poured into the FCC from companies across the country who had an interest in keeping Comcast happy. By helpfully suggesting talking points to resellers—or MVNOs, for Mobile Virtual Network Operators—including Mint Mobile, Republic Wireless, and Ting, all of which lease access from the Big Four network operators (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) in order to sell phone and data services to customers, T-Mobile is following the usual “air of inevitability” merger playbook.
What’s so troubling about T-Mobile’s get-out-the-vote campaign is who is aiding the company’s lobbying. MVNOs, who don’t own their own infrastructure but collectively account for about 10 percent of the consumer wireless market in the US, primarily target “value” consumers, otherwise known as low- and medium-income Americans. These small companies, who are utterly dependent on the goodwill of the Big Four, are serving Americans who are making barely enough to survive.