The ongoing lawsuit initiated by a group of seven customers claiming a price hike by Verizon and AT&T in the aftermath of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger in April 2020, has taken a new turn. This week, a federal judge declared that T-Mobile will have to address the charges, creating a dramatic development in this controversial case.
The plaintiffs contend that the massive $23 billion merger has curbed competition so severely that AT&T and Verizon could surge prices for their wireless services. Preceding the completion of the merger, concerns were raised regarding its speculated anticompetitive impact. Indeed, Democratic senators stressed that the action would “likely to raise prices for consumers, harm workers, stifle competition, exacerbate the digital divide, and undermine innovation”, during their appeal for the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department to reject the merger proposal in 2019.
Court documents seen by Reuters indicate that the plaintiffs feel many of the lodged objections have materialized, and the lawsuit proposes that the higher prices by AT&T and Verizon might directly be an outcome of the merger. The document illustrated how the merger eradicated two notable “maverick” firms establishing a considerable amount of price competition and innovation among the carriers.
Prior to the merger, T-Mobile and Sprint actively vied with the bigger brands such as AT&T and Verizon by offering discounts and innovative plans. The newly merged T-Mobile’s scale and cost structure are now allegedly similar to the other major players, hindering its incentive to compete. Plaintiffs also maintain that Sprint would have continued to compete vigorously if the merger didn’t occur.
In their pursuit of justice, the subscribers involved in the lawsuit are demanding financial compensation and an array of additional penalties, extending to a proposal to reverse the merger.
In an indication of the tense situation, T-Mobile’s lawyers told the court, “If plaintiffs are unhappy with Verizon and AT&T, there is a remedy available in the highly competitive market that wireless consumers enjoy today — they should switch to T-Mobile, not sue it.” As of now, T-Mobile has refrained from making any public comment on the matter.
This lawsuit represents another significant chapter in the narrative of the telecommunication industry, which continues to grapple with issues of competition and consumer protection. As such, it will be closely watched by critics, industry observers, and consumers alike.