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Civil Rights Group Shenanigans: Promoting the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger in Quid Pro Quo Deal

Many of the same civil rights groups that regularly advocate their support of giant corporate telecom mergers are back once again to show their support for the controversial T-Mobile/Sprint merger. But that support does not come for free.

A “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that includes “philanthropy and community investment” that does not exclude direct financial contributions from the two wireless companies to these civil rights groups is a major part of a new “understanding” announced today between several organizations founded to represent minority interests and T-Mobile and Sprint that the wireless companies hope will deliver an imprimatur for the troubled merger deal with regulators and politicians.

The key items in the MOU:

  1. Standing up a national diversity and inclusion council comprised of non-employees from diverse groups, including each of the multicultural leadership organizations that are party to the MOU, and other highly esteemed community leaders to facilitate open communication over the development, monitoring, and evaluation of diversity initiatives and to provide advice to the New T-Mobile senior executives.

  2. With the help and input of the council, developing and implementing a Diversity Strategic Plan addressing each of the key elements of the MOU and reflecting best practices in the industry.

  3. Increasing the diversity of its leadership and workforce at all levels including its Board governance, to reflect the diversity of the communities in which it operates.

  4. Making a targeted effort to increase partnerships, business, and procurement activities with diverse business enterprises in a range of categories such as financial and banking services, advertising, legal services and asset sales. New T-Mobile aims to become a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable by 2025.

  5. Expanding wireless offerings to low-income citizens, underserved minority populations and insular and rural areas, and to organizations serving these underserved communities [including] a significant philanthropic investment for institutions serving disadvantaged or underrepresented communities to support tech entrepreneurship and to bridge the gap in literacy.

The groups, most familiar to Stop the Cap! readers that have followed civil rights groups engaged in pay for play advocacy, include:

In a joint statement, the groups urged the FCC to approve the T-Mobile/Sprint merger “so the combined New T-Mobile can definitively launch these enhanced diversity efforts and expansion of service to all communities included in the MOU.”

“T-Mobile is honored to partner with these visionary organizations to create an action plan of this magnitude that includes commitments to diversity and inclusion that are bolder than ever before,” John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile and CEO of New T-Mobile, said in a statement. “With this MOU, we have doubled down on ensuring we represent the communities we serve today and will serve as the New T-Mobile in the future. We are excited for the New T-Mobile to become a reality so we can get to work on delivering these commitments.”

Except in most cases, these kinds of arrangements serve mostly as window dressing, gussying up otherwise nakedly anti-consumer merger deals under the guise of serving minority or disadvantaged interests. Money often quietly flows between the corporate and the non-profit side, usually in the form of donations. Some groups may also offer token advisory board positions to executives, which usually cements an ongoing advocacy relationship.

Members of these civil rights organizations have a right to be puzzled why such groups are spending significant time and resources engaged in corporate advocacy. The interests of two major corporations cementing a multi-billion dollar merger deal and civil rights groups trying to fight discrimination and improve the lives of their constituents are often tangential, if not in direct opposition to each other. Apparently the money that usually comes with these arrangements matters much more.

Verizon and T-Mobile: Poor Neighborhoods Won’t Get 5G

Verizon and T-Mobile are redlining their up and coming 5G wireless services to target wealthy neighborhoods and business districts while shunning the urban poor.

Dave Burstein examined the coverage maps of both carriers in cities like Manhattan and found a distinction in the service available in wealthy southern Manhattan and what upper Manhattan neighborhoods including Harlem and the mostly Latino Washington Heights are getting. For both companies, 5G is not much of a priority for Brooklyn either.

“I do not think T-Mobile specifically intended to exclude people of color, but that seems to be the practical effect,” Burstein wrote.

(Image: Dave Burstein)

Ronan Dunne, executive vice president & group CEO of Verizon Consumer confirmed that Verizon will be targeting 5G service to areas where it makes the most economic sense. He said that more than half of Verizon Wireless customers will continue to get 4G LTE-like speeds, with the rest eventually upgraded to 5G service.

“So we’ve taken a very clear view that we want to have both a coverage strategy and a capability strategy. And a very large majority of the volume of data that we carry on our networks goes to large, dense urban environments,” Dunne told investors recently. “So from a population point of view, it’ll be significantly less than half of the customers [getting 5G]. But from a data traffic point of view, it’s significantly more than half. So when it comes to the ability to use 5G as a significant capacity enhancement, there’s more of an opportunity to leverage that in the urban areas.”

In other words, Verizon plans to target population dense urban areas for 5G service the most, because that is where most of its data-loving customers live and where they network’s cost effectiveness may be the highest. Although the geographic coverage of 5G will seem relatively small, the population density of areas targeted for 5G service is not.

Dunne

Verizon has been touting its forthcoming nationwide 5G network, but Dunne has hinted to investors that the devil will be in the details. Not every customer will have access to Verizon’s super fast millimeter wave 5G service. In fact, at least half the country will be serviced by existing 4G LTE cell towers upgraded to provide 5G service on lower frequencies capable of reaching far beyond the coverage area offered by millimeter wave service. But that will also mean a much larger number of customers will share the same 5G network connection, potentially dramatically reducing speed and performance. Dunne said the performance of this type of 5G service “will approximate a good 4G service.”

Burstein notes in real terms, this will mean a significant difference in network speed. Verizon’s millimeter wave service will be capable of delivering 1-2 Gbps, while Verizon’s 5G upgrade of its existing 4G cell towers will deliver speeds in the low hundreds of megabits per second, potentially even slower on crowded cell sites.

5G Hype: Current 5G Networks Are Fast, But Coverage Is Awful (And Phones Get Really Hot)

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile’s 5G launches are blazing fast, when you can find a signal, but your phone will also get blazing hot while using it.

The Wall Street Journal embarked on testing current 5G launches in several American cities and found speeds on 5G nearing 1,800 Mbps in some places, but the millimeter-wave frequencies most carriers are using for mobile 5G don’t travel far and are subject to disappear just by walking down the street, around the corner, or indoors.

Some devices with 5G support are also suffering from heat issues, sometimes causing phones to heat up to over 105° and drop 5G service in favor of less battery-intense 4G LTE. Network engineers admit they bring coolers filled with ice to cool down overheating 5G phones.

Only Sprint’s mid-band 5G network in Chicago offered a much larger coverage area that still worked after walking indoors, and devices remained cool to the touch while using it. But Sprint’s 5G service sacrifices performance for coverage, often topping out at around 200-300 Mbps.

The Wall Street Journal found a reporter, a tent, and some new 5G devices and sent them out to test some of America’s new 5G services. (5:39)

Reuters: DoJ Ignored Bid from Charter Communications to Acquire T-Mobile/Sprint Assets

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Charter Communications submitted a proposal to the Justice Department to buy telecom assets being sold under the T-Mobile US and Sprint Corp combination, but never heard back from the agency, three sources familiar with the matter said.

U.S. officials decided to accept a deal to sell assets including Sprint’s Boost Mobile brand to satellite TV provider Dish Network to resolve antitrust concerns, ending extensive talks on a merger the Justice Department is expected to approve this week.

The Justice Department’s lack of response to Charter could raise concerns among critics of the $26.5 billion merger of wireless carriers T-Mobile and Sprint that officials did not weigh all divestiture offers before deciding on a deal with Dish.

Details of the proposal were not immediately known, but sources said this week Charter had requested that there be an auction process for the divested assets.

The Justice Department declined to comment. Charter was not immediately available for comment.

Ten state attorneys general, led by New York and California and including the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit on June 11 to stop the merger, saying it would cost their subscribers more than $4.5 billion annually. Four more states have since joined the lawsuit.

Dish emerged as the leader to acquire the prepaid phone brand Boost Mobile, which T-Mobile and Sprint are selling in order to gain regulatory approval for their merger.

Charter began offering its own mobile service called Spectrum Mobile last year, which runs on Verizon Communications’ network. It served 310,000 mobile lines as of the first quarter.

Dish, which has been stockpiling billions of dollars worth of wireless spectrum, faces a March 2020 deadline to build a product using the spectrum in order to fulfill the requirements of its licenses. It has focused on building an Internet of Things network, with the goal of eventually having a 5G wireless network.

The Federal Communications Commission has indicated it is prepared to approve the Sprint and T-Mobile merger.

Reporting by Angela Moon and Sheila Dang in New York; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Diane Bartz in Washington; editing by Chris Sanders and Leslie Adler

Justice Dept. Ready to Approve T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

The Justice Department has helped engineer an approvable merger deal between T-Mobile and Sprint that will get antitrust regulators’ blessings as early as tomorrow, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The sticking point that held up merger approval for weeks was the divestiture of certain wireless assets to Dish Network, which claims it will temporarily use Sprint and T-Mobile’s wireless networks to offer a new nationwide “fourth option” for cell phone service. Dish’s new cell phone service will come from a $1.4 billion acquisition of prepaid carrier Boost Mobile, which currently relies on reselling Sprint’s 4G network. Dish would inherit Boost’s nine million customers. Dish will also be able to lease access to T-Mobile and Sprint’s existing wireless networks for up to seven years while it builds out its own network of cell towers. The deal also includes a guarantee that Dish can pay $3.6 billion to acquire 800 MHz wireless licenses held by Sprint.

The Justice Department claims that lower frequency spectrum will allow Dish to service rural communities, assuming Dish is willing to invest in cell tower construction in high cost, low return areas.

Regulators in the Trump Administration’s Justice Department claim shaving assets from a super-sized T-Mobile will preserve the competition that will be lost when Sprint becomes a part of T-Mobile. But Dish will emerge as a miniscule player with only a fraction of the 100+ million customers that AT&T and Verizon have, and at least 80 million customers signed with T-Mobile. One of the core arguments T-Mobile and Sprint made in favor of their merger was that each was too small to afford to deploy 5G service quickly and efficiently. Dish will have even less money to build out a basic 4G wireless network.

Another merger requirement for the combined T-Mobile and Sprint will be mandatory support for eSIM, which allows consumers to change wireless carriers quickly without investing in a physical SIM card. But that requirement will not impact AT&T or Verizon Wireless, which both continue to push physical SIM cards on the much larger customer bases.

If the Justice Department does publicly approve the merger, the last hurdle the wireless companies will have to overcome is a multi-state lawsuit filed by attorneys general that argue the merger will impact low-income customers and is anti competitive. That court case is unlikely to be heard until late fall at the earliest.

CNBC’s David Faber reports that T-Mobile and Sprint have settled with the Department of Justice to go through with their merger deal. (6:14)

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