In the competitive wireless world of cell phone providers, the third and fourth largest cellular service companies are attempting to merge, and now that deal has the backing of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
When the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division and nine states sued to block the deal earlier in 2019, it appeared the transaction had hit a speed bump. But now that group has agreed to settle the lawsuit with some conditions, according to the attorney general.
Rutledge says she signed onto the settlement with eight other states with the goal of accelerating the expansion of high-speed wireless networks in Arkansas, especially in rural areas where broadband availability may be scarce.
“Arkansans deserve to have a level playing field when paying for affordable and reliable access to internet and cell phone services,” says Rutledge. “This agreement will help connect customers in rural parts of our State to 5G networks which will boost education and economic opportunities while safeguarding the industry from anticompetitive practices.”
The conditions of the settlement require T-Mobile and Sprint to divest Sprint’s prepaid wireless services. This will include Sprint prepaid, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. The newly-merged company will also have to “make available to Dish Network at least 20,000 cell sites and hundreds of retail locations.”
The goal is for Dish Network to become the fourth nationwide provider of retail mobile wireless services, Rutledge says, and prevent the reduction of wireless competition. While Dish Network builds up its wireless services, T-Mobile will have to provide Dish with ‘robust’ access to its network for seven years, according to the attorney general.
Arkansas joined Colorado, Kansas, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota in this settlement.
Now, New York, California and the attorneys general of 13 other states and Washington, D.C., are going to court to fight the planned merger in a trial that is to begin on December 9, Bloomberg reported.
The Natural State is currently working to bring high-speed internet to rural communities, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this year appointing Nathan Smith as the state’s first broadband manager.
His job is to help deliver high-speed broadband internet access to Arkansas communities with 500 residents or more by 2022.
A 2019 broadband deployment report from the Federal Communications Commission found 56 percent of rural Arkansans have access to a fixed 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband internet connection. That’s compared to 94 percent in urban areas of the state.
View the full report here.