Critics blasted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai (pictured, centre) for moving ahead with plans to formally approve a proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile US without first consulting with consumers.

Pai drew fire after lining up a vote to approve the transaction with conditions, following what he called “one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in commission history”. His detractors argued the public should have a chance to comment on the concession deal the agency struck with the operators.

Despite the opposition, the vote is expected to go Pai’s way, as he and two other members of the five-person commission backed the deal in May after Sprint and T-Mobile agreed to rural coverage commitments and an asset divestiture plan.

Further comment needed
Though the public had a chance to comment on the original merger proposal, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) argued the changes merit further scrutiny.

In a statement, RWA general counsel Carri Bennet accused the commission of being “so hell bent on 5G that it is missing the bigger picture”. She vowed to appeal any approval if the FCC doesn’t allow further public input, arguing this would prevent any decision being based on a “full and complete record”.

She added a desire for swift deployment of 5G should not “trump careful review and scrutiny of the competitive landscape and the harm to consumers that will occur if this deal is approved”.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks also called for further public comment, noting on Twitter “what’s before us now is not the same deal the parties filed months ago”.

Even with the FCC’s blessing, however, Sprint and T-Mobile must still beat a lawsuit backed by 15 states which aims to block the merger on competition grounds.