By Mignon Clyburn & Robert McDowell
April 1, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
One year ago today, Americans were just beginning to grapple with the profound effects of COVID-19. Across the nation, new remote lives were taking shape, and old, beloved institutions were changing greatly. Broadband access, critical in the best of times, became utterly essential. Broadband is now vital, not only for staying connected to family and friends, but also for learning, working and staying healthy.
In the midst of this upheaval, something remarkable happened: T-Mobile officially completed its merger with Sprint. On that day — April 1, 2020 — we knew T-Mobile was in a position to dramatically accelerate 5G deployment across the country. In a time when access to the internet is more important than ever, the T-Mobile-Sprint merger has spurred new levels of competition in the industry, helped keep wireless connectivity affordable and expanded access to underserved communities across the country.
Before the merger, T-Mobile promised that incorporating Sprint’s network would provide 14 times more capacity over the first six years, coverage for 90 percent of rural Americans and 5G speeds up to eight times faster than current LTE in just a few years. Those promises weren’t just words. One year in, American consumers are already reaping major benefits.
Just months after the merger closed, T-Mobile launched America’s first nationwide, standalone 5G network. The move blanketed 250 million Americans with fast and reliable 5G service — including many in historically underserved rural areas. Soon after, T-Mobile expanded in-home 5G broadband service to 130 cities and towns in states like West Virginia, North Dakota and Wisconsin, bringing connectivity to many underserved communities struggling with the effects of COVID-19.
T-Mobile’s 5G network is also igniting competition, making the market better for all consumers. The Federal Communications Commission’s recent C-band auction — during which the FCC sold 5G spectrum licenses to telecommunications companies — proves as much. The auction shattered expectations, raising a record-breaking $81 billion in bids from companies itching to expand their own 5G networks. As T-Mobile predicted, the merger with Sprint has created new urgency for Verizon and AT&T to compete by investing almost $69 billion in their own networks.
T-Mobile is also keeping the benefits of its network and services accessible to low-income Americans. Even before the merger was finalized, the company introduced its lowest-cost plan ever — just $15 a month — in response to the challenges faced by low-income Americans due to the pandemic. Since the completion of the merger, T-Mobile has upheld its promise to keep broadband affordable for all.
Our new digital lives have laid bare stark realities facing low-income students and families. An estimated 12 million American students lack home internet access, and 40 percent of low-income parents report that their children need public Wi-Fi to finish their homework because there is not reliable broadband access at home. 5G can help — but only if it’s accessible to everyone. The T-Mobile merger is helping achieve that goal.
T-Mobile’s Project 10Million is a $10.7 billion initiative aimed at providing underserved students and families with internet connectivity through free wireless hotspots, high-speed data and access to devices like laptops and tablets. Project 10Million is one way the private sector is working to close the homework gap for underrepresented students, and it wouldn’t exist without the resources and efficiencies gained from the T-Mobile-Sprint merger.
It’s going to take more than a single company to close the digital divide. We’re happy to see the FCC’s continued commitment to this goal, including with the recent implementation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which is making internet service more affordable for low-income Americans. We are excited about the many ways T-Mobile has promoted competition and access in the last year and look forward to all the good that T-Mobile will bring to consumers in Year 2.
Mignon Clyburn served as a commissioner of the FCC from 2009 to 2018, serving as acting chair from May 2013 to October 2013. Robert McDowell served as a commissioner of the FCC from 2006 to 2013 and is a partner at Cooley LLP, where he is co-leader of its global communications practice. Both currently serve as advisers to T-Mobile.
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