FCC set to vote on T-Mobile-Sprint merger, though states' lawsuit still looms large

The merger is taking its next expected step, but the battle with 16 attorneys general still looms large.

Eli Blumenthal Senior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
Expertise 5G, mobile networks, wireless carriers, phones, tablets, streaming devices, streaming platforms, mobile and console gaming,
Eli Blumenthal
2 min read
In this photo illustration the T-Mobile logo is seen

T-Mobile's merger with Sprint has taken one step closer towards government approval. 

Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

T-Mobile and Sprint have taken another step closer toward getting their $26.5 billion merger approved, with the Federal Communications Commission announcing Wednesday that it is ready to vote on the deal. 

The news was expected after the Department of Justice gave its OK to the wireless tie-up last month, with Dish Network having agreed to purchase divested Sprint assets to become a new fourth wireless carrier. The FCC had already signaled in May that it would approve the deal, but it did not take a formal vote. 

"After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. 

"Moreover, with the conditions included in this draft Order, the merger will promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical midband spectrum to use and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market." 

In addition to giving the OK on T-Mobile and Sprint, Pai's release also announced that the FCC is set to give Dish its requested extension for deploying its spectrum. The satellite TV provider was previously facing a March 2020 deadline to use its billions of dollars of spectrum holdings, but was hoping to get that pushed back in light of the deal with T-Mobile. 

While the announcement is a step towards the merger, Wednesday's news was more an expected formality than anything else. T-Mobile still needs to win over more than a dozen state attorneys general suing to block the deal on anticompetitive grounds. 

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks also tweeted criticism of the decision being made without public comment.

"Sprint/T-Mobile is one of the largest deals ever reviewed by @FCC. What's before us now is not the same deal the parties filed months ago. To address DOJ concerns, parties made a new deal. I'm surprised @FCC is ignoring past precedent & practice by failing to seek public input," Starks tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

He added that the merger will "alter the future of wireless service" and impact everyone with a phone. Starks also pointed to the state attorneys general suit against the deal, and said "we shouldn't rush our ruling w/o public comment."

Originally published Aug. 14, 8:43 a.m. PT.
Update, 1:19 p.m.: Adds comments from FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

Watch this: T-Mobile-Sprint merger: What it means for you

What 5G can do for you besides fast phone downloads

See all photos