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T-Mobile and Sprint are reportedly nearing a deal with Dish to save their merger

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Dish could become the new fourth US carrier if T-Mobile and Sprint merger is approved

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Dish is negotiating a deal to buy wireless spectrum and Boost Mobile from T-Mobile and Sprint, as the latter two companies look to finally receive approval for their huge, industry-reshaping merger. According to Bloomberg, Dish has emerged as the company most likely to purchase the assets that T-Mobile and Sprint are currently trying to offload in a bid to assuage the Justice Department’s concerns with the merger. The satellite TV provider is reportedly willing to pay “at least” $6 billion for the spectrum and Boost Mobile, which is Sprint’s prepaid brand. An agreement could be announced as soon as this week.

The Justice Department is coming very close to giving the T-Mobile / Sprint deal a thumbs-up, per Bloomberg. That might also happen sometime this week. The DoJ’s antitrust division has pressured both carriers to sell enough assets to allow for a new, nationwide carrier to take Sprint’s place as the fourth major US player. Dish already possesses a large heap of valuable spectrum that it has not (yet) put to use. But the satellite TV provider must start building out an actual network if it wants to hit a March 2020 federal deadline that’s in place for those spectrum licenses. Adding assets from T-Mobile and Sprint to that stockpile would put Dish in a strong position.

Charter and Altice USA were also “on a shortlist of bidders for T-Mobile and Sprint assets favored by the Justice Department,” according to Bloomberg, but Dish seems to be leading the fray.

The DoJ’s likely approval of the $26.5 billion merger shows that T-Mobile and Sprint have managed quite a turnaround with Makan Delrahim, who oversees the antitrust division. As recently as late May, it was rumored that the Justice Department was leaning toward trying to block the deal — even after FCC chairman Ajit Pai publicly declared he would vote in favor of it.

Last week, perhaps to get out ahead of a DoJ approval, several US attorneys general announced that they would sue to prevent the merger from going through. But the Justice Department giving T-Mobile and Sprint a thumbs-up would likely complicate that court battle — especially if the two companies can say they’re shedding significant assets to get the deal done. That said, CNN Business is reporting that the DoJ is “prepared to litigate” if negotiations should fall apart in these final days.

From the very beginning last April, T-Mobile and Sprint have insisted that their coming together is necessary to build a more formidable competitor to Verizon and AT&T. The two companies also say the merger is critical for an accelerated 5G buildout across the United States; they agreed to 5G expansion targets in order to get the FCC’s blessing. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has repeatedly vowed that the combined company will not raise prices on customer data plans for at least three years.