June 1, 2018 / 6:23 PM / 19 days ago

Top U.S. antitrust official uncertain of need for four wireless carriers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, declined on Friday to support the Obama administration’s firm backing of the need for four U.S. wireless carriers.

FILE PHOTO: A smartphones with Sprint logo are seen in front of a screen projection of T-mobile logo, in this picture illustration taken April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Asked about T-Mobile’s plan to buy Sprint for $26 billion, Delrahim declined to reiterate the view of President Barack Obama’s enforcers, who had said that four wireless carriers were needed.

Instead, Delrahim told reporters, “I don’t think there’s any magical number that I’m smart enough to glean.”

He also said the department would look at the companies’ arguments that the proposed merger was needed for them to build the next generation of wireless, referred to as 5G, but that they had to prove their case.

Bill Baer, a former head of the antitrust division, had told the New York Times in 2014: “It’s going to be hard for someone to make a persuasive case that reducing four firms to three is actually going to improve competition for the benefit of American consumers.”

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Dan Grebler

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