Merger may help rural web service

Attorney General Jim Hood says a lawsuit to block the merger of America’s third- and fourth-largest phone companies is about making sure Mississippians have low-cost mobile service.

Mississippi joined nine other states, all of which have Democrats as attorneys general, this week in suing in federal court in New York to stop the $26 billion union of Sprint and T-Mobile.

Hood, who is running for governor, said in a statement that the merger would likely drive up prices in the long run because lower-cost competitors have forced the industry leaders, AT&T and Verizon, to reduce prices. Hood said the average cost of mobile service has fallen 28 percent since 2009 as a result.

However, there are reasons to believe the merger could benefit Mississippi. Sprint and T-Mobile have little presence in this state now. Most communities have two options for cell service: AT&T or Mississippi-based C Spire. Sprint and T-Mobile say it would be better for consumers to have a third strong company nationally. If a combined firm could grow into new areas, that would increase competition among carriers, not decrease it.

Second and most important, to get Federal Communications Commission approval, Spring and T-Mobile have agreed to work on a national 5G network. They say it would cover 97 percent of the country with high-speed internet.

Although no company has demonstrated it on a large scale yet, the idea is that a 5G network — which stands for fifth generation, each of which has provided speedier wireless internet service — will finally be fast enough to be comparable to a hard-wired home connection. That would make a big difference for sparsely populated areas where it doesn’t make financial sense for home internet providers to run the wiring to provide service for a limited number of potential customers.

Rightly the Trump administration has blocked efforts by Chinese giant Huawei to create a 5G network out of national security concerns. That’s opened the door for American companies to do the 5G groundwork. Sprint and T-Mobile aren’t strong enough to do that alone, but together they might be able to. They should be given that opportunity.

In the background of the whole debate is that Mississippi is fortunate to have a home-grown company like C Spire. Not only does it provide a quality alternative to what would otherwise be a near-monopoly for AT&T, but it supports most every worthy civic and cultural cause in this state. The other wireless corporations do little to nothing for Mississippi. Dollars spent with them leave the state and go to their shareholders; money spent with C Spire stays here.

The best interests of Mississippians are certainly served by having a strong, locally owned carrier in the market. But they might also be by another national competitor entering the arena with a 5G plan.

The proposed merger requires both FCC and U.S. Justice Department approval. Government should err on the side of letting the free market decide how it all plays out.