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Update: FCC chairman formally recommends approval of T-Mobile/Sprint deal

U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Aug. 14 formally recommended the approval of the proposed T-Mobile US Inc.-Sprint Corp. merger.

The chairman circulated a draft order for the FCC to sign off on the deal should the order be approved by the full commission. The FCC approval is the last federal regulatory hurdle for the transaction after the U.S. Justice Department conditionally approved the deal July 26.

"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," Pai said in an Aug. 14 statement. "Moreover, with the conditions included in this draft Order, the merger will promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market."

Pai announced support for the deal in May, after receiving a set of commitments from the wireless companies around the deployment of next-generation 5G service, as well as a pledge to divest Sprint's Boost Mobile prepaid brand. Shortly thereafter, the other two Republican commissioners, Brendan Carr and Michael O'Rielly, signaled inclination to support the deal, indicating that the Republican-controlled commission had sufficient support to approve the deal.

After the Justice Department announced its conditional deal approval July 26, senior FCC officials told reporters that the agency was putting the "finishing touches" on the deal.

Both Democrats on the commission, Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel, urged the FCC to seek public input on the new commitments made to the FCC by T-Mobile before voting on the transaction.

"What's before us now is not the same deal the parties filed months ago," said Starks in an Aug. 14 statement. "To address Department of Justice concerns, the parties made a new deal. I'm surprised the FCC is ignoring past precedent and practice by failing to seek public input."

A court challenge involving more than a dozen state attorneys general opposed to the deal remains unresolved. The trial date for the case was recently pushed back from October to early December.

Additionally, the California Public Utilities Commission, which is determining whether to approve the deal within California, has not yet made a determination on a pending application to the commission.