Top Democrat on antitrust committee expresses ‘concerns’ over T-Mobile, Sprint merger

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The top Democrat on a House subcommittee, tasked with oversight of antitrust law, said he’s concerned with a broad range of implications tied to the multi-billion-dollar merger deal between T-Mobile and Sprint.

“I’m particularly concerned about the impact on consumers, on the price of services, on choice,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative law, told ABC News ahead of his panel’s Tuesday hearing over the blockbuster merger.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) questions Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker during an oversight hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, February 8, 2019.

Democrats on the subcommittee called the hearing to explore “the impact of the proposed merger,” calling T-Mobile CEO John Legere, Sprint Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure and a group of industry leaders to testify in public.

Cicilline also told ABC News that he wonders whether the proposed merger will negatively impact the job market by reducing the number and kinds of jobs in the U.S., the working conditions and the kind of compensation.

“You pretty clearly reduce the likelihood of innovation,” he added. “You have fewer people competing in the marketplace.”

Tuesday’s hearing comes amid revelations that T-Mobile executives spent almost $200,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington after announcing the proposed merger in April 2018.

The company said the $195,000 spent at the president’s hotel amounts to roughly 14 percent of T-Mobile’s $1.4 million in hotel spending in the nation’s capital over the same period of time. About half of that total figure was spent at Hilton hotels, T-Mobile said.

“It’s obviously a concern,” Cicilline said of the report. “I’m always concerned when there is evidence or a suggestion that someone is trying to curry favor with the administration by staying at a Trump Hotel — I think that’s a concern.”

He added, “I think the American people have to have confidence that the decisions are made whether to contest or approve mergers of this magnitude, free from any favoritism or political interference and that reporting that I have reviewed is concerning. … The hearing will provide an option to clarify that.”

Following his election, President Donald Trump answered demands that he divest from his family businesses by placing his business empire in the control of his three adult children via a “blind trust” and pledging to donate any foreign earnings to the U.S. Treasury.

PHOTO: John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., right, speaks as Marcelo Claure, chairman of Sprint Corp, listens during a hearing on the the T-Mobile and Sprint merger on Capitol Hill, Feb. 13, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., right, speaks as Marcelo Claure, chairman of Sprint Corp, listens during a hearing on the the T-Mobile and Sprint merger on Capitol Hill, Feb. 13, 2019.

Despite rampant partisanship in Congress, Cicilline expects “cooperation” from Republicans on the issue.

“I’m worried about these issues because I’m focused on the interest of my constituents and what I know matters in people’s lives,” he said. “They want more choices and lower costs and more competition and better services, I expect they’re going to have the same concerns as I have.”

Sprint and T-Mobile, according to a report from the California Public Advocates office, largely serves lower-income wireless customers. Cicilline worries that the merger could negatively affect this vulnerable demographic.

The two companies rank as the third- and fourth-largest wireless companies in the country. The merger likely would create a company the size of Verizon or AT&T.

PHOTO: In this file photo is a general view of the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. at the Old Post Office, Oct. 31, 2016, in Washington D.C.AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images
In this file photo is a general view of the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. at the Old Post Office, Oct. 31, 2016, in Washington D.C.

Executives of both companies pledged not to raise prices and said in previous congressional testimony the merger would gives customers more bang for the buck, possibly while paying less.

“We can take competition to new levels,” Legere, the outspoken T-Mobile CEO, testified at a hearing in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in February. “We will offer a much faster, broader and deeper network, and new services at lower prices. This will force our rivals — AT&T, Verizon and the cable monopolies — to improve their services, increase their own capacity and lower prices even further.”



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