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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Reuters reported that staff for the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division has recommended blocking T-Mobile’s proposed takeover of Sprint. The final decision on whether to sue to block the deal rests with Antitrust Division chief Makan Delrahim, thanks to the recusal of Attorney General William Barr.

The story comes just two days after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced his support for the $26.5-billion acquisition, citing commitments that Free Press and other public-interest advocates dismissed as entirely inadequate to prevent this merger’s many harms. Pai’s Republican FCC colleagues have since endorsed his recommendation.

If approved, the deal would leave the United States with only three nationwide wireless-service providers. This would crush competition, raise prices and eliminate as many as 30,000 jobs, according to union estimates. It would disproportionately harm low-income people and communities of color, who rely on competition between Sprint and T-Mobile and their prepaid brands to keep access affordable.

Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood made the following statement:

“We’re heartened by reports that the expert antitrust enforcers at the Department of Justice aren’t buying T-Mobile’s phony promises. The inadequate conditions FCC Chairman Pai and his fellow GOP commissioners so readily and rapidly blessed are a tiny Band-Aid on what would be a fatal wound to wireless competition and affordability in this country. DOJ’s staff seems to get that, even if some of the political appointees leading the FCC don’t.

“The FCC must focus its alleged efforts to close the digital divide on affordability, and on the persistent gaps in broadband adoption, even in areas where fast service is already available. Allowing this merger to go through would drive up prices for everyone, as T-Mobile’s own expert economists admitted to the FCC. The merging parties’ so-called pricing commitments, and their promise to divest the relatively small Boost prepaid brand — while keeping Boost reliant on access to T-Mobile’s network and good graces — would do nothing to prevent price hikes and restore lost choices.

“It’s remarkable, but not remotely surprising, to see the potential gulf between Ajit Pai and the dedicated career antitrust enforcers at the Justice Department. These professionals seem to understand the clear harms from further consolidation in an already highly concentrated market. Despite the FCC majority’s wrongheaded moves, we’re hopeful that Assistant Attorney General Delrahim and state antitrust enforcers will heed the sound advice they’re getting to block this massive deal.”

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