Sprint, T-Mobile Execs Bullshit Congress On The Benefits Of Merger Mania

from the less-competition-means-more-competition dept

Sprint and T-Mobile last week went before Congress to literally argue that fewer competitors in the wireless space will magically result in... more competition in the wireless space. The two companies are trying to gain regulatory approval for their latest $23 billion merger attempt, the second time in four years this particular deal has been attempted.

The companies' previous merger attempt was blocked in 2014 after regulators noted that removing one of just four major carriers would result in a proportionally-lower incentive to actually compete on price, something that's really not debatable if you've paid attention to telecom and broadband industry history. That's especially true in Canada, where consolidation to just three players has resulted in some of the highest mobile data prices in the developed world. AT&T's attempt to acquire T-Mobile in 2011 was blocked for the same reason, a move that many forget resulted in T-mobile being more competitive than ever.

But while speaking before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigating the deal, T-Mobile and Sprint executives told Congress a decidedly different story. One in which the rules of competition, and mathematics, no longer apparently apply:

"This consolidation will lead to lower prices,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere told hearing attendees. "This is actually moving from two to three,” Legere claimed, insisting that joining forces with Sprint will make a more “viable competitor” for AT&T and Verizon.

But history has repeatedly shown in telecom that claims of competitive "synergies" never actually materialize. A major reason most ISPs are so hated is because they've spent decades prioritizing growth for growth's sake over anything else, and, more often than not, fail to scale things like customer service and support proportionally because that kind of growth erodes revenues. As a result you get an endless string of telecom mergers that, like Charter's recent acquisition of Time Warner Cable, simply result in higher prices and worse service than ever before.

Sprint and T-Mobile's central thesis in selling the merger (this time around) is that Sprint can't possibly survive without merging with T-Mobile. In fact, one of Sprint's recent filings with the FCC (pdf) comically tries to go out of its way to argue just how terrible the company currently is, in stark contrast to everything the company had been saying the last few years:

"Sprint’s standalone future will not be one that allows it to be an effective competitor to Verizon and AT&T on a nationwide basis. And though Sprint’s massive cost reductions have stabilized the company’s finances and yielded positive free cash flow for the first time in many years, the company achieved that result only by shrinking the company and reducing network investment to historically low levels."

But while Sprint does have a heavy debt load (which is not uncommon in the merger-obsessed telecom sector) and has struggled to find a real brand identity (which says more about leadership than finances), the threat of its imminent demise is being amplified for strategic effect. The company's balance sheet has been improving, with the company routinely propped up by deep-pocketed Japanese owner Softbank. Meanwhile there are numerous potential partners interested in the wireless industry that could have provided a meaningful partnership (Dish, Charter, Comcast) that wouldn't have reduced competition.

Of course claiming "fewer competitors improves competition and lowers prices" isn't the only falsehood being perpetuated by the company. They're also promising that the merger will be a boon for job creation, despite numerous Wall Street analyst estimates that the deal could eliminate up to 30,000 jobs as redundant positions (especially in retail and middle management) are inevitably eliminated.

For some reason, like Charlie Brown and his damn football, America doesn't seem to ever really learn any lessons from its love affair with mindless merger mania and our love of growth for growth's sake. These deals almost always exclusively only benefit shareholders and executives, a lesson we apparently love to ignore time and time again.


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  • identicon
    David, 9 Jul 2018 @ 6:34am

    I don't buy your "redundant job" argument.

    They're also promising that the merger will be a boon for job creation, despite numerous Wall Street analyst estimates that the deal could eliminate up to 30,000 jobs as redundant positions (especially in retail and middle management) are inevitably eliminated.

    You don't have 30000 "redundant positions" magically out of work while retaining the same total customership and personnel structured to serve its needs. Positions can only become redundant when their occupants are idling to a significant degree. With as few players in the market as now, that just doesn't happen in a sensible setup.

    The only way there will be significantly fewer jobs is by significantly lowering the quality of customer service done by humans. And that is not an option in situations with relevant competition which is exactly what the mergers are going to fix.

    Yes, there will be cost savings due to elimited jobs but those jobs would not have been "redundant" but rather part of providing basic customer service quality standards.

    The lack of competition has a double advantage: customers will have nowhere else to go, and the telcom workers will have nowhere else to go. Because of course job quality and satisfaction will also tank given a huge work overload and desperate and irate customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Beta (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:07am

      Re: I don't buy your "redundant job" argument.

      I beg to differ.

      Large, old companies tend to acquire parasitic managers, people whose only real skill is self-promotion and political intrigue, and who don't do any good to anyone but themselves (and perhaps each other). They accumulate in middle management because at the top they can't hide from the stockholders, and at the bottom they can't blame failures on subordinates. They are very hard to fire -- since being hard to fire is something they work hard at -- and maybe mergers and bankruptcy are the only ways to get rid of a lot of them at once.

      I don't know whether this is the case in Sprint and/or T-Mobile, and I don't expect customer service to *improve* after a merger, but I think it's a mistake to assume that these two giants are now shining examples of efficiency and sensible management.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      deadspatula (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:29am

      Re: I don't buy your "redundant job" argument.

      One, he uses 'up to' 30,000 for a reason, in previous articles he noted several different estimates, ranging from 10,000 to 30,000. If nothing else, almost every T mobile and sprint store competes, and you would likely get a significant reduction in number of stores. And that doesn't account for secondary job losses in the supply chain. This number doesn't come out of thin air.

      In fact the 10,000 job loss number agrees with you that corporate positions will see lower attrition than assumed in the 30,000 job loss number.

      But in the end, no analyst thinks we will see job growth from such a merger.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 13 Jul 2018 @ 10:46am

      Re: I don't buy your "redundant job" argument.

      That number came from a number of analysts and was primarily around not having redundant retail locations.

      In nearly every shopping mall in the US, there is a T-Mobile and a Sprint store. One of those will close due to the merger. Store closing cascades - for every 20 employee, you can lose a manager, for every 20 managers, you can lose an HR rep and a regional manager, etc.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2018 @ 6:47am

    so, the 2 questions that come to mind are, why hasn't Congress learned anything from what has happened with the repeal of net neutrality, ie, how the FCC now cant stop the increase in pricing that has happened almost immediately, certainly from a 'change of business model' is concerned and which members of Congress have been stupid enough to go for this bullshit? are they the same ones who are being 'bribed' by these pumping money into their election campaigns or are there others believing the same bullshit lies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2018 @ 7:06am

    one of Sprint's recent filings with the FCC (pdf) comically tries to go out of its way to argue just how terrible the company currently is

    Let's no go crazy here. Sure, they may have taken the scenic route, but it added like 5 total minutes to the trip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2018 @ 7:24am

    This stale re-re-re-(x100)-hash is what you go with for morning piece?

    Weird editorial choice. You could go to Drudge and randomly stab your finger at the screen and be guaranteed to find more interesting and relevant topic.

    Why do I even read here? -- Heh, heh! It's BECAUSE of pieces like this! I can't help but HOOT and feel superior. Thanks, Techdirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 7:35am

      Re: This morning troll

      I guess it it makes you *feel* superior we can't argue with that.
      However, Mike has a site and you don't, so sniping like that doesn't actually make you better in any measurable way.

      Perhaps if you linked to your content, we could see how your skills of curation, editing and design measure up?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2018 @ 7:41am

      Re:

      Gobble that corporate cock, blue boy! You closet corporatist. Deepthroat that merger!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wilbert E. Clark III, 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:31am

      Re: This stale re-re-re-(x100)-hash is what you go with for morning piece?

      I dropped out of high school.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      Wait. You admit to reading a blog you hate because it makes you feel better about yourself?

      Get some professional help, man.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2018 @ 9:23am

        Re: Re:

        Preferably the sort that can only be contacted via the Darknet and prescribes treatments of projectile injections...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2018 @ 6:56pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Nope, too quick. It needs to be elegant, painful, and leaves nothing behind but the great smell of Brut...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 10 Jul 2018 @ 1:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Please try not to sink to their level, there's already more than enough(in that there's more than zero) people advocating violence to add to their ranks.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 9 Jul 2018 @ 7:54am

    since mega-mergers benefit investors...

    when is the best time to invest in VeriSprinTmobAts?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:07am

      Re: since mega-mergers benefit investors...

      The best time is when the stocks are at a low value, which would have been a long time ago when each company was close to their inception.

      That concept, long term investing, is not how much of Wall Street works these days. Computer generated investing makes trades on very small changes and reacts swiftly to changes in quarterly profits, rather than thinking long term. The reduction in competition is good for the next couple of quarters, but not good for customers in the long run. How that will affect stock price in the long run is unknown because it is not the only factor in stock price.

      This is a problem, for the rest of us.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:46am

    Waiting for it

    Rather than mergers, it's time to start doing "Baby Bell" type breakups.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:52am

      Re: Waiting for it

      Well, it appears in hindsight, the 'Bell' break up was only a temporary fix. Either we need for those that make these decisions to understand markets (and the effect on consumers) better and not allow these types of consolidations in the future, or we need a different fix.

      Or maybe those making the decisions understand the markets perfectly well, but are working in the interests of the wrong groups. Wall Street rather than consumers. Not sure how a new round of breakups will fix that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 9:35am

      Re: Waiting for it

      It was largely for appearances, it did little to solve the underlying issues, and created a bunch of regional monopolies for a national one. Competition didn't really happen until Title II instituted Local loop unbundling. Its why I continue to question breaking up google - how would you do that and what would it accomplish? If you break up the wireless carriers, you only create regional monopolies, you don't solve competition issues.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Luckydob (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 8:50am

    Really???

    You just said that Comcast acquiring Sprint would benefit consumers more than the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint? No.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Troy A. Wilson Sr., 9 Jul 2018 @ 11:58am

    But the real consumer question is...

    Will this give me better service coverage and lower cell phone bills than my current Sprint plan and will it keep me from being forced to move over to AT&T or Verizon just get better coverage? I hate AT&T and Verizon with a passion and have been a Sprint or T-Mobile customer for over 10 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Jul 2018 @ 1:56pm

    Strange thought..

    Ever notice that SOME people get a raise compared to the VALUE of the dollar??

    Everyone except the poor?

    And in economics THAT has messed up allot of this country in the last 20+ years..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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