Altice USA has petitioned the FCC to deny the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger -- or hit the combined firm with a handful of conditions -- as it fears that more mobile industry consolidation will have anti-competitive effects and impair Altice USA's MVNO agreement with Sprint.
Altice USA struck a "full" MVNO deal with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) in Q4 2017 and expects to launch service in 2019. In the meantime, Altice USA is moving forward with tests in the emerging, shared 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band to offset some of its MVNO costs. (See Altice USA Gears Up for Trio of CBRS Trials and Altice USA: 'Wait Till Next Year!' )
In the petition (PDF) filed August 27, Altice USA maintained that is "confident" in its ability to enter the mobile market next year based on its current deal with Sprint, but lodged concerns that T-Mobile US Inc. has "made no tangible commitments regarding meaningful support for current MVNO partners..." with respect to areas such as providing additional capacity, improving national coverage and lowering pricing that can facilitate competition in the mobile sector.
Altice USA said its view is magnified by "hostile statements" against MVNOs, including cable operators entering the mobile market.
Of specific note, Altice USA pointed to comments by T-Mobile CEO John Legere in February 2018 during the company's Q4 2017 earnings call when he referred to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Xfinity Mobile service (which uses an MVNO with Verizon Wireless) as "very irrelevant" and put forth assumptions that Charter Communications Inc. 's similar mobile offering "will be irrelevant squared." (See Charter Unleashes Spectrum Mobile… Without the iPhone and Mobile Is No Passing Fad for US Cable.)
"The harms of the transaction are especially potent today as cable operators entering the wireless market using MVNOs are only beginning to offer consumers wireless choice," Altice USA argued.
If an outright denial isn't in the cards, Altice USA also outlined a list of conditions that, it believes, would help to protect MVNOs, particularly those (like Altice USA) that have some infrastructure and can compete on "more than just price":
- Commit to honor and implement existing MVNO agreements, including good faith finalization of any future requirements in those agreements;
- Commit to offering existing MVNO partners – for the full term of existing deals or for ten years post-consummation, whichever occurs later -- the best wholesale terms and conditions offered individually by each of the applications to their MVNO partners;
- Divest spectrum that exceeds "that exceeds the spectrum screen, and associated network infrastructure" in order to make those assets to MVNOs and smaller wireless players that need it for national mobile deployments... so long as any divestiture partner isn't controlled or owned by AT&T, Verizon or the new T-Mobile; and,
- File detailed quarterly reports with the FCC describing the merged company's status in implementing the above conditions for ten years after the deal is consummated.
Altice USA acknowledged that Legere mentioned at a recent Senate hearing that T-Mobile would have "strong incentives to continue offering MVNOs competitive prices," but held that incentives are not the same as assurances or commitments.
As opposition against the deal hit the FCC docket, Legere took to Twitter Tuesday to mock T-Mobile's biggest US rivals and reset the argument that the Sprint merger is about taking it to AT&T and Verizon.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading