T-Mobile Merger 'Synergies' Culminate In Massive 12 Hour Nationwide Outage
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
For much of the last year, T-Mobile and Sprint insisted that their $26 billion megamerger would result in untold amazing “synergies,” lower prices, and better service. You know, pretty much the complete opposite of what US telecom merger history indicates and antitrust experts had predicted. And so far, the antitrust experts have had it largely right; the company has been busy laying off employees at its prepaid division (despite repeatedly claiming this wouldn’t happen), and the DOJ’s attempt to cobble together a fourth replacement carrier out of Dish Network appears to be bogged down in infighting.
This week, T-Mobile’s wireless network experienced a massive, twelve hour outage that left users unable to call or send text messages:
“In our own tests in New York and Seattle, we found that making calls from a T-Mobile phone would fail almost immediately after placing the call. We also found that the cell service on our phones was intermittent, with bars occasionally dropping to zero or losing access to high-speed data.”
Initially, since telecom giants love to avoid explaining (or giving any transparency whatsoever into outages), rumors falsely suggested that the outage was due to a massive DDoS attack. Experts like Brian Krebs later speculated that the cause of the outage was at least partially due to efforts to integrate the Sprint and T-Mobile networks:
I have found no indication these outages are DDoS related. Rather, there may be Sprint/T-Mobile issues related to a wonky update in the systems from the Sprint side to help merge with T-Mobile. Not sure what may be up w/ other carriers. See: https://t.co/jM6OAvmyfI https://t.co/WN1l8Fu1bp
— briankrebs (@briankrebs) June 16, 2020
Obviously combining the massive footprints of two major US wireless carriers is going to come with some headaches. But it’s worth repeating that this wouldn’t be happening if regulators had heeded experts’ warnings and not rubber stamped the merger in the first place. The outage was enough to warrant a stern Twitter talking to by FCC boss Ajit Pai, who called the outage “unacceptable” and insisted the source of the outage would result in an FCC investigation:
The T-Mobile network outage is unacceptable. The @FCC is launching an investigation. We're demanding answers?and so are American consumers.
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) June 16, 2020
Again though, there are a few problems here. The outage wouldn’t have happened if the FCC hadn’t ignored all warnings and objective data and rubber stamped the gigantic, cumbersome, and unnecessary job and competition eroding deal (before commissioners had even read their own staff’s impact analysis, no less). Pai has spent the last three years pandering to the telecom industry by giving it everything it wants, including the death of privacy and net neutrality protections, merger approval, and a few feckless wrist slaps for one of the biggest privacy scandals in modern internet history.
Now comes a point when he’s supposed to actually “investigate” a problem, and there’s not much faith that anything will come of it. T-Mobile won’t willingly admit the merger integration caused the outage, and given he has a vested interest in defending his merger approval, Pai isn’t likely to admit as much either. T-Mobile could very easily lie here and provide a reasonable-sounding alternative explanation for the outage, and the FCC–beholden as they are–wouldn’t challenge this in the slightest. The only way to determine T-Mobile was telling the truth would be a full investigation–the kind this FCC would never actually do because it conflicts with Pai’s hands off ideology.
Regulators don’t always need to actually regulate. Often it’s beneficial if they don’t. But they need to retain the impression that they’re tough, objective, and could take action at any time so that companies know that there are penalties for malfeasance and incompetence. But when you spend three years mindlessly pandering to an industry you used to work for, the message is sent loud and clear: you will face no serious repercussions for pretty much anything of note.