Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai (pictured) refused to rule out allowing consolidation in the US wireless market, which could see the number of nationwide operators reduced from four to three.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Pai said he had no preconceived plan as to the ideal number of operators which should be in the market, and would evaluate any proposed transactions based on their impact on competition and consumers.
“My approach to the regulatory role is one of humility,” Pai said: “I don’t claim to know in a vacuum what the optimal market structure is, what the ‘right’ number of competitors should be. Our goal is always to make sure the marketplace functions in a way that benefits the public interest.”
“To me at least, we try and take a look at the marketplace as it stands try to figure out: is there competition, are prices going down, is application and service innovation going up, and make the appropriate judgement.”
The policy fits with Pai’s desire to return to a “light touch” regulatory stance, which recently saw the FCC seek to attempt to reverse some of the previous administration’s flagship policies including regulations around net neutrality.
Consolidation in the US wireless market is the subject of intense media speculation, which led to both T-Mobile US CEO John Legere and SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son fielding the question of consolidation of Sprint and T-Mobile – or potentially other partners – in their respective financial results presentations in the past fortnight.
Talks of Softbank revisiting a merger of its Sprint business with T-Mobile surfaced earlier this year with reports in February Son was prepared to offer T-Mobile’s minority shareholder Deutsche Telekom control of Sprint to revive the deal first floated in 2014.
The original proposed deal was dropped amid strong regulatory pressure.