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U.S. lawmakers at T-Mobile, Sprint hearing spar over stay at Trump hotel

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03/12/2019 | 07:41pm EDT
A smartphones with Sprint logo are seen in front of a screen projection of T-mobile logo, in this picture illustration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers questioning the chief executives of T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp over their planned merger sparred with each other on Tuesday over T-Mobile's executives staying at President Donald Trump's hotel where they spent $195,000 while in Washington.

T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere defended the $26 billion (19.9 billion pounds) deal before a House subcommittee, saying the company would be better and faster at building 5G, the next generation of wireless, to compete with industry leaders AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc and would create jobs while prices would not rise.

But Representative Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, asked instead about Legere taking a group of executives to stay at the Trump International Hotel the day after the merger was announced last year. The hotel stay had been previously reported.

Legere acknowledged staying at the hotel, telling the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee: "I'm a longtime Trump hotel stayer."

"You see how that looks?" Johnson pressed on. "You understand the optics of that? What it looks like? It looks like what's happening is that T-Mobile is trying to curry favour with the White House."

Legere said that he was unaware of any contacts between the White House and the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission who were reviewing the deal.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, agreed with Johnson's concerns. "It appears that you were trying to influence the merger," she told Legere.

Republicans on the committee disagreed.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, said that where the T-Mobile executives stayed was irrelevant. "I'm kind of embarrassed sitting here listening to the line of questioning of the gentleman from Georgia," he said, referring to Johnson.

Representatives Matt Gaetz and Ken Buck, both Republicans, mocked the hotel issue. "I had dinner at the Trump hotel three weeks ago," Buck said. "I wonder if I have a conflict of interest?"

Legere said on Twitter on Sunday that on this trip to Washington he stayed at a different hotel.

MERGER CONCERNS

Two key House Democrats expressed concern about the agreement to combine the No. 3 and No. 4 U.S. wireless carriers, which was struck in April.

Representative David Cicilline, chair of the antitrust panel, noted that both companies had competed hard against their bigger rivals. "I am deeply skeptical that consolidation is the path forward to lowering prices, increasing opportunity, or unleashing competition," he added.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, chair of the full committee, said he was concerned about the companies' dominance of prepaid plans, usually used by people who are poorer or have bad credit.

"Because the proposed transaction would also consolidate the market for these services, it may have disproportionately negative effects on low-income households," he said.

To win support for the deal, T-Mobile previously said it would not increase prices for three years. Sprint said it hopes to complete the regulatory approval process by the end of June.

Last month at a congressional hearing, House Democrats raised worries about the deal because the U.S. wireless market has just four main carriers.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Phil Berlowitz)

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
AT&T 0.03% 31.07 Delayed Quote.8.83%
SPRINT CORP -0.64% 6.25 Delayed Quote.7.39%
T-MOBILE US -0.50% 71.9 Delayed Quote.13.03%
VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS 2.52% 59.76 Delayed Quote.3.68%
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Financials ($)
Sales 2019 33 391 M
EBIT 2019 2 796 M
Net income 2019 222 M
Debt 2019 33 757 M
Yield 2019 -
P/E ratio 2019 129,13
P/E ratio 2020 173,13
EV / Sales 2019 1,77x
EV / Sales 2020 1,79x
Capitalization 25 496 M
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Number of Analysts 18
Average target price 6,58 $
Spread / Average Target 5,2%
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Managers
NameTitle
Michel Combes Chief Executive Officer & Director
Raul Marcelo Claure Executive Chairman
Néstor Cano Chief Operating Officer
Andrew Mark Davies Chief Financial Officer
John C. B. Saw Chief Technology Officer
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