T-Mobile-MetroPCS sails through FCC without even a vote

The T-Mobile-MetroPCS merger is apparently so uncontroversial that the Federal Communications Commission didn’t even find a reason to vote on it. Instead of having the FCC’s five commissioners review the merger, the agency’s staff approved the deal in what is known a bureau-level decision, usually reserved for routine transactions.

So far the T-Metro deal has sailed past regulatory obstacles. The U.S. Department of Justice declined to initiate any antitrust review last week. The deal’s biggest remaining hurdle is a vote by MetroPCS shareholders on April 12. The MetroPCS board has already unanimously approved the deal, but institutional shareholders are opposing it, trying to hold out for a better terms.

The lack of a full commission review and vote is sure to earn the ire of the Communications Workers of America, which anticipated the FCC’s move earlier this week and tried to stop it. The “full Commission has voted on much smaller transactions, including the $72 million Guam Cellular/DoCoMo Guam transaction and the $2.8 billion AT&T/Dobson deal,” CWA said in a statement Monday. “There is no reason that the full Commission should not fully evaluate and assess all the elements of this $30 billion deal.”

Considering the deal would merge the country’s fourth and fifth largest carriers, you’d think the deal with merit the commission’s full attention. But in its declaratory ruling, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau staff said that the benefits of the deal for competition and the public interest were numerous:

… we find that the transaction is not likely to result generally in competitive or other public interest harms. In addition, to the extent there may be some possible competitive harms in selected geographic areas, we find that these possible competitive harms are outweighed by certain public interest benefits likely to result from the proposed transaction. Such benefits include the facilitation of Long Term Evolution (“LTE”) deployment, the expansion of the MetroPCS brand into new geographical markets, the development of a more robust, national network, improved quality of service, and the strengthening of the fourth largest nationwide service provider’s ability to compete in the mobile broadband services market.