FCCs Wheeler Skeptical of Big Wireless Mergers

Tom Wheeler on Tuesday said the Federal Communications Commission will continue to question efforts by large wireless providers to consolidate, a sign that the agency is unlikely to find acquisitions that would shrink the number of large players to be in the public interest.

In prepared remarks during the 2014 CTIA Show in Las Vegas, Wheeler — the FCC’s chairman — said he and an assistant attorney general with the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division recently discouraged Sprint’s potential acquisition of T-Mobile US.

The potential merger, which Sprint abandoned in the face of regulatory opposition, would have consolidated the number of large national providers from four to three and given Sprint the scale to more effectively compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

“We will continue to be skeptical of efforts to achieve scale through the consolidation of major players,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler’s FCC is not the only one that has opposed major consolidation in the wireless industry. In 2011 then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated an order that found AT&T’s $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile was not in the public interest.

The Justice Department previously moved in federal court to block the merger, and AT&T eventually withdrew its bid to acquire T-Mobile, which was struggling at the time with subscriber losses.

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