A telecom merger that can help bridge the digital divide

By Mignon Clyburn, Special to CALmatters

In my nearly 19 years in public service, I have focused on closing information and technology gaps and empowering underserved communities.

America fulfills its highest calling, I believe, when it delivers the best networks to the greatest number of people, especially ones who are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

That mission remains more important than ever as we enter the 5G era.

It is not enough to build faster networks only for the wealthy or in the top 20 cities. Only when high-speed internet reaches every ZIP code can we say that we’ve truly won the 5G race.

For with 5G, America has an unprecedented opportunity to hit the reset button by bringing the benefits of education, transportation, healthcare, and civic engagement to communities that need it the most. If we fail, millions of Americans will remain left behind.

It is with these goals in mind that I’ve carefully examined the proposed merger of T-Mobile, for which I serve as an adviser, and Sprint.

I asked many of the same questions as people challenging this transaction, now pending before the California Public Utilities Commission: Will phone bills go up? Will there be layoffs? Will Americans most in need of high-speed mobile broadband get priced out? Will New T-Mobile deliver 5G for some but not for all?

I was happy to learn that T-Mobile and Sprint were asking the very same questions. In California and across the country, these companies have gone to great lengths to address societal issues including digital inequity, and are making concrete commitments to create a more inclusive digital ecosystem.

During testimony before California Public Utility Commission and committees of jurisdiction in the U.S. Congress, T-Mobile and Sprint executives have reiterated their commitment to building a 5G network that extends fiber-like speeds from the towns of South Carolina to the Central Valley of California.

Coverage, however, is only one piece of the puzzle.

Meaningful broadband access must be affordable. T-Mobile and Sprint are committed to offering the same or better rates as they do now for three years after the merger, regardless of what competitors charge.

One of my proudest accomplishments as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission was to overhaul Lifeline, the program that helps economically disadvantaged Americans afford wireless service. Lifeline is particularly important in California, which contributes more to the program for its citizens than any other state.

T-Mobile and Sprint pledge to continue Lifeline service post-merger, allowing Lifeline customers to benefit from the New T-Mobile network.

But T-Mobile and Sprint are not primarily merging for job synergies. They plan to combine spectrum assets and spend nearly $40 billion on a next-generation infrastructure and services, if they merge.

That investment will mean more, not fewer, high-paying jobs. The New T-Mobile has  announced the creation of a new customer experience center in the Central Valley. The company hasn’t announced the exact location, but the center will create approximately 1,000 local jobs.

In a recent agreement with the California-based National Diversity Coalition, T-Mobile pledged to expand and improve the wireless capabilities of local community centers and churches across California to provide greater access to broadband for low-income communities. New T-Mobile will make wireless devices available at low or no-cost to school districts in critically underserved communities.

Improving access to 5G-enabled technologies will be essential to creating economic parity in America, as detailed in a recent Brookings Institution study. That is why I am excited about the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

It represents an opportunity to bridge the digital divide on a scale that we have yet to see.


Mignon Clyburn served as Federal  Communications Commission Commissioner from 2009 to 2018, and is an adviser to T-Mobile, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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