By Mignon Clyburn & Robert McDowell
October 30, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
You’ve likely heard about 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity, which promises to foster growth in today’s newest technologies — smart infrastructure, connected agriculture, telemedicine, and autonomous vehicles — while unlocking innovation we can’t even dream of today. The social, economic, and geopolitical implications couldn’t be greater, so it’s critical that America lead this technological revolution. But what we can’t do is let millions of underserved Americans slip through the cracks in the process. Today, many Americans in big cities and rural areas remain, technologically speaking, generations behind. 5G for a few isn’t the answer. 5G for everyone is.
We recently witnessed an important step forward in bringing a nationwide 5G network to the United States: The Federal Communications Commission voted to approve the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, capping an exhaustive review process that lasted more than a year. In the end, as the expert agency in all matters related to communications in our country, the FCC concluded that the merger is in the public interest. And indeed it is.
As former FCC commissioners from both sides of the political aisle, there were times when we disagreed on issues, but the vast majority of the time we agreed on what was right. Today is one of those times when we see eye-to-eye. We commend Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr for clearing the transaction, as it represents an extraordinary opportunity to help address the connectivity challenges facing our nation. The combined company will increase competition in rural and underserved markets, improve quality of service, and keep prices down, all the while creating thousands of American jobs.
New T-Mobile has a strong business incentive to make its high-capacity 5G network accessible and affordable to as many people as possible. The company will invest nearly $40 billion in its new network and services, forcing competitors to respond with better service. This means all wireless consumers stand to benefit from this merger, not just T-Mobile and Sprint customers.
These benefits aren’t just promises— the companies made verifiable, enforceable legal commitments to the FCC, with significant judicially enforceable financial penalties if they fall short. Specifically, New T-Mobile has committed to blanket 97 percent of the U.S. population with 5G just three years after the merger, and 99 percent within six years. The companies pledged to accelerate 5G buildout in rural areas after the close of the merger, to cover 85 percent of rural Americans within three years and 90 percent within six. What’s more, the new company has committed to offering the same or better rate plans as those offered by T-Mobile and Sprint for three years following the merger while it builds its high-capacity nationwide 5G network.
As countries around the world race to be the first to develop a 5G economy, American leadership is essential. The country that gets to 5G first will have a significant technological advantage for at least a generation. Right now, China, South Korea, and other foreign economies are pushing full-steam ahead on their 5G infrastructure — the New T-Mobile would help to ensure the United States not only leads but also shows the potential of inclusive 5G.
With all this at stake, it’s concerning to us that some state attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, are suing to block the deal.
The FCC took a step to advance America’s 5G leadership by backing the merger, and the Department of Justice recently did the same. Several state attorneys general have likewise expressed their support because they’ve heard stories from students who struggle to complete their homework due to spotty broadband service; farmers who face a disadvantage due to limited access to new technologies; and small businesses struggling to keep up with e-commerce. These were the kinds of stories we heard while at the FCC, that drove us to support programs like increasing wireless spectrum available for 4G.
When you listen to these stories and understand the wireless landscape, it becomes very clear that the T-Mobile-Sprint merger will significantly improve the status quo for all Americans — especially those without high-speed internet access today — by expanding broadband access and keeping prices down. Attorneys general in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah have thrown their support behind the merger. For those state attorneys general seeking to block this merger, we call on them to stand down and end their lawsuit which stands to undermine competition, consumer benefits, and 5G innovation that will flow from New T-Mobile.
Mignon Clyburn served as FCC commissioner from 2009 to 2018, including service as acting chairwoman. Robert M. McDowell, a former FCC commissioner (2006-13), is a partner at Cooley LLP and is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Both currently serve as advisers to T-Mobile.
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