Top executives from T-Mobile US and Sprint struggled to provide specifics when pressed by US politicians to explain how their proposed merger will improve coverage in rural America.
During a hearing, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan challenged T-Mobile CEO John Legere to detail how the deal would incentivise more deployments in rural areas, which have historically failed to attract strong operator investments. He also questioned whether rural residents receiving low-band 5G coverage would be offered slower speeds than urban counterparts covered by mmWave.
Legere largely responded to queries on jobs, competition and coverage by restating information contained in the operators’ merger filings with regulators, including a promise to cover 90 per cent of the population with 5G service offering 100Mb/s speeds by 2024.
Lujan insisted “details matter,” adding: “When I’m told that rural America is going to get these assets and things don’t exactly add up, I have a lot more questions.”
Queries in the same vein came from several other politicians, including Congressman Peter Welch, who blasted operator coverage maps as “bogus”.
“When I sit here and hear what I believe is your sincere goal to serve rural America and bring 5G to rural America, in Vermont we [currently] have no G…so I’m a skeptic,” he said.
Legere and Sprint chairman Marcelo Claure are also scheduled to testify before a separate Congressional committee on 14 February.
The hearings come as the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) weigh whether to clear the deal. Congress doesn’t have a direct say in the approval, but politicians can voice concerns and share evidence with the deciding agencies.
Separately, Sprint announced its withdrawal from industry trade group INCOMPAS, after association CEO Chip Pickering concluded the merger would “undercut the competitive wireless ecosystem”. Pickering cited concerns the combination could raise wholesale prices for wireless resellers and negatively impact roaming and MVNO agreements.
Sprint, which helped found INCOMPAS in 1981 as part of bid to break-up AT&T, said its decision to oppose the deal marked a “fundamental shift toward protecting incumbents from a new competitive threat”.Subscribe to our daily newsletter