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The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Sprint, Comcast and Charter Communications are discussing an agreement for mutual support in providing a discount mobile telephone service.
Sprint is controlled by the Japanese conglomerate Softbank, whose chairman, Masayoshi Son, made his first mark in that country by launching a successful deep-discount mobile phone service that resulted in much lower prices for consumers there. Mr. Son has already tried once to repeat this move in the US. To gain the requisite size to offer a similar disruptive service in the US, he agreed to combine with T-Mobile. This would have formed a third big mobile telecom group, after Verizon and ATT. But the federal government ruled against his plan, on the grounds that joining Sprint and T-Mobile would reduce the number of big telecom companies in the US from four to three (violating an anti-trust rule of thumb that frowns on market shares above 25%). The fact that Mr. Son wanted to provide more competition, not less, made no apparent difference to the regulators.
Hence, I think, Mr. Son’s very visible support for Mr. Trump, as a businessman who might see through regulatory clutter.
I’m not sure what will develop from talks among the three parties. I don’t think this is simply a way for Son to extract himself from an investment gone wrong in Sprint, however. My guess (as someone with too-high cellphone bills, my hope?) is that a viable mobile service with adequate national coverage will emerge from the talks.
If so, while this may/may not be good news for the companies involved, it is definitely bad news for both Verizon and ATT.
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