T-Mobile/Sprint: FCC Asks Cable to Weigh In; Cisco Give Deal Thumbs Up

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The FCC is seeking info from various parties, including Altice USA, Comcast and Charter, on the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger. Responses are due Oct 17. Recall that Altice has raised concerns over what the union could mean for MVNO partners down the road and has asked the FCC to deny the deal or condition it to require the new company to commit to long-term, nationwide agreement for all MVNOs across the improved coverage. The MSO plans to launch mobile service in 2019 through its full MVNO with Sprint. Charter didn’t touch on the merits of the merger, but told the FCC that it should not view its mobile service as serious competition in the marketplace. The FCC wants the cable companies to chime in on how the proposed transaction could impact mobile wireless business and their TV/internet business.

The second part could be significant as it signals the Commission is thinking about more than mobile phone service. Mobile wireless is, of course, significant, with the Commission asking for details on the characteristics of mobile customers; revenue, costs and profitability of wireless customers; and plans to develop a facilities-based mobile wireless network. The FCC also sent letters seeking more info from AT&T, Verizon, US Cellular, Cellular South and TracFone Wireless. The FCC’s voluntary 180-day merger review shot clock has been paused since Sept 11, with the agency declaring that more time was needed for staff and third-party review of newly submitted and anticipated modeling, including a “substantially revised network engineering model."

The companies informed the Commission on Sept 28 that they have completed their modeling submissions and do not intend to further supplement the record. While the FCC and DOJ are the principal players in merger reviews, states have a role to play as well. For example, the Attorney Generals for Florida and Tennessee are among those investigating whether the proposed T-Mobile-Sprint deal would violate any laws. In the course of their investigations, both recently sent notice that they are seeking access to documents and information that may contain Numbering Resource Utilization and Forecast data and local number portability data. The deal has received some endorsements, including from various Chambers of Commerce and Cisco, which has a partnership with T-Mobile to deploy what is already the world’s largest virtual evolved packet core [EPC] network.

“Virtual EPCs allow carriers to customize networks to meet unique customer requirements. Virtual EPCs also help carriers reduce their reliance on specialized hardware that can frustrate scale efficiencies and constrain real-time responses," Cisco govt affairs vp Jeffrey Campbell wrote to the FCC last week. “Realizing the power of disaggregated network functions through much more extensive deployment and use of virtual EPC represents an important, if easily overlooked, element of the merger-specific synergies that the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint can realize." Meanwhile, the FCC has extended the deadline for third parties to comment on the deal from Tuesday to Oct 31 to give them time to review and comment on recently submitted materials.

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