FCC chair Ajit Pai says he has had no contact with the White House over the T-Mobile-Sprint merger.
That came in response to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who pointed to a Fox Business report that the White House's economic advisers were urging antitrust chief Makan Delrahim to "get the deal done," although Justice staffers were reportedly leaning toward recommending blocking it.
Pai came out publicly for the deal after the companies offered new commitments to rural broadband buildouts and pledged to divest low-cost prepaid subsidiary, Boost Mobile.
Blumenthal opposes the merger, and said he thought the new commitments were vague promises with no guarantee of benefits.
He asked Pai to report to the committee if the White House did contact him over the merger, and he agreed to do so.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) suggested it was unusual for Pai to have announced his support of the deal publicly, and for the Republicans on the commission to do the same. Michael O'Rielly said he had Tweeted his inclination to support it, but subject to reading the order the chairman has yet to circulate, which he will still be doing before voting on the item.
He said that he weighed in with a tweet to give a sense to news outlets in general where he was on the issue, which was inclined to support based on the information on the record. Carr said his support, too, was based on the year-long review record.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said he was disappointed that the chairman had indicated to him that he would not put those new deal conditions out for public comment.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out that she had seen no staff recommendations or other data on the deal review, but her colleagues had already publicly supported it, which she called highly irregular and said looked like 'back room dealing."
He conceded it was his first mega merger review, but commissioner Geoffrey Starks said he also had issues with the way the review has played out, including that the proposed divestiture of Boost Mobile was not put out for public comment. He said that was curious given that the divestitures in Sinclair's proposed purchase of Tribune stations was.
Chairman Pai is historically mum on deals before the FCC, but suggested in his announced public support that that that vetting was essentially done and an order was forthcoming.