With the telecom sector seeing the Trump administration as somewhat of a blank check, the industry is busy considering all manner of mergers and acquisitions that would have been blocked under any number of previous administrations for being competition-killers. Verizon has made an offer to buy Charter (Spectrum), Sprint has been trying to merge with T-Mobile, AT&T's pushing for approval of its acquisition of Time Warner, Altice USA is gobbling up smaller providers hand over foot, and the industry is consolidating at a faster rate than ever.
While obviously not all M&As are bad by default, ignored in this rush is that several recent high-profile telecom deals have been utter shitshows for the American consumer.
While the Obama administration did block both AT&T and Sprint's attempted acquisitions of T-Mobile (which wound up being a very good thing for competition and consumers), its approval of Frontier's acquisition of Verizon's unwanted DSL customers in Florida, California and Texas resulted in endless outages and problems courtesy of a bungled integration. The Obama administration also approved Charter's $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House, resulting in not only much higher prices for consumers, but (somehow) even worse customer service for already one of the least-liked companies in America.
Undaunted by any potential history lessons, now Trump-era merger mania rolls on with the news that Charter and Comcast are considering either a joint acquisition of Sprint, or a minority ownership stake in exchange for a more lucrative network sharing deal for both companies' wireless services:
U.S. wireless carrier Sprint Corp is in talks with Charter Communications Inc and Comcast Corp about a partnership to boost the two U.S. cable companies' wireless offerings, according to sources familiar with the matter. Sprint, controlled by Japan's SoftBank Group Corp, has entered into a two-month period of exclusive negotiations with Charter and Comcast that has put its merger talks with U.S. wireless peer T-Mobile US Inc on hold till the end of July, the sources said on Monday.
Said deal could involve an outright acquisition of Sprint by the two cable giants, though one source suggests that's unlikely at first. More likely is a joint minority investment by both companies in exchange for a discount network sharing arrangement to help fuel both cable companies' attempts to get into the wireless sector. Comcast has already launched a WiFi-centric wireless voice service that uses the Verizon Wireless network for backup, and Charter is planning a similar service for 2018. That would, depending on how it went, likely evolve into a full acquisition of Sprint down the road.
Both companies had already struck a deal to partner on handset contracts, including a promise not to acquire a wireless carrier without first informing the other company. That deal was criticized on some fronts as a way for the two cable companies to avoid having to directly compete as they pushed their respective services to market.
How all of this shakes out (and whether it's good for anybody not named Sprint, Comcast or Charter) remains unclear. The deal could be an improvement over a Sprint acquisition of T-Mobile as it would not only keep the four major wireless competitors intact, but would bolster Sprint's historically rocky balance sheet ensuring it remains a somewhat viable competitor. That said, Charter and Comcast are no strangers to anti-competitive behavior, and adding another entire service segment to this well-documented dysfunction could prove disastrous for what's already some of the worst customer service in any industry in America.