The $26.5 billion merger has been under review for more than eight months.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday paused its review of T-Mobile US’s proposed purchase of rival wireless provider Sprint, saying more time is needed to review new arguments for the deal presented by the companies.
The move from the Republican-led agency created fresh turmoil for the $26.5 billion merger, which has been under review for more than eight months.
“All indications were this would be decided in the next few weeks” but now it appears “they haven’t made the case to the policy makers,” said Gigi Sohn, a former FCC aide and merger opponent. “They’re still grasping at new theories.”
The FCC, in an order posted online, said it wanted time to examine “significant additional information” filed last month and on Wednesday, when T-Mobile offered a 63-page filing updating plans for wireless in-home broadband service.
Comments on the new submissions are due March 28, the FCC said. It paused a counter that tracks how many days the deal is under review at 122 days until resuming April 4. The agency attempts to complete its reviews in 180 days.
The deal to combine the third- and fourth-largest U.S. wireless providers, which was filed with U.S. regulators in June, has drawn criticism from Democrats and policy groups who say it would reduce competition, threatening higher prices. The companies say that together they can create a stronger competitor to industry leaders AT&T and Verizon Communications.
The deal needs approval from the FCC and antitrust regulators at the Justice Department.
In its March 6 filing, T-Mobile said the merger would “unleash a disruptive and effective competitor upon an in-home broadband industry typified today by extreme and growing consumer dissatisfaction.”
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In a statement T-Mobile said, “We believe it is a positive step that the FCC is so deeply engaged in understanding this transaction and our recent filing, and we completely understand their desire to have these short, routine, clock stoppage cycles to fully review the merits of our merger with Sprint.”
“We continue to look forward to completing the regulatory approval process in the first half of this year,” the company said in the statement.
Scrutiny of the deal is set to intensify. The Democratic-led House antitrust subcommittee has called T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere to testify at a March 12 hearing, alongside Sprint Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure and critics of the merger. State attorneys general are expressing concerns the deal could lead to higher prices for consumers.
T-Mobile and Sprint each have foreign owners that will have significant roles in the combined entity. Deutsche Telekom, based in Bonn, would own 42 percent of the new company, while Tokyo-based SoftBank Group would own 27 percent.