The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) looked set to approve T-Mobile US and Sprint’s proposed merger by the slimmest of majorities, after two of the regulator’s five commissioners voted against giving the deal a green light.

Geoffrey Starks (pictured, second from right) and Jessica Rosenworcel (pictured, far left) voted against the merger, with both citing an expected negative impact on competition and ultimately on consumers.

In a statement, Starks accused the FCC and Department of Justice (DoJ) of ignoring expert advice which indicated the original merger proposal would “likely harm competition and raise prices”, by subsequently accepting “paper-thin commitments” by the operators to expand broadband access and 5G coverage.

He said the commitments “cannot mask reality”, namely that a reduction in operator numbers from four to three “will hurt competition”.

Rosenworcel took a similar line: “We’ve all seen what happens when markets become more concentrated after a merger like this”, she stated, citing the airline and pharmaceutical sectors as examples. “There’s no reason to think this time will be different. Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the T-Mobile Sprint merger will reduce competition, raise prices, lower quality and slow innovation.”

FCC chief Ajit Pai (pictured, centre) recently resisted calls by politicians and groups opposing the deal to extend the commission’s review of the planned merger. Pai and two other commissioners have supported the tie-up since before the DoJ gave its blessing in July.