Thursday, February 14, 2019

Union says T-Mobile hurt rural wireless customers after acquiring an Iowa telecom; implications for Sprint merger

The Communications Workers of America claims that T-Mobile hurt rural wireless customers in Iowa last year when it bought a major wireless carrier in the state. The Rural Wireless Association and the National Wireless Independent Dealers Association agreed with the labor union's report in a reporters' call this week, Mitchell Schmidt reports for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

The CWA report compared Iowa's wireless market before and after T-Mobile acquired Iowa Wireless Services, branded as iWireless, in early 2018. It claims rural customers, prepaid customers, and former authorized dealers suffered. According to the report, "before the acquisition, iWireless — which served about 75,000 customers in Iowa, western Illinois and eastern Nebraska — had one of the largest retail footprints of any wireless carrier in Iowa with 129 corporate and authorized dealer locations," Schmidt reports. T-Mobile "discontinued the network and closed 86 percent of the provider’s retail locations and its two customer service call centers."

Though T-Mobile claimed it expanded service in rural areas, it has not opened a T-Mobile branded store outside urban areas since the purchase, said Debbie Goldman, research and telecommunications policy director with CWA. In essence, she said, "The company gutted a carrier that previously provided convenience and choice to thousands of rural customers."

CWA, RWA and NWIDA representatives said they fear that the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint could have a similar effect nationwide. In joint comments filed with the New York Public Service Commission, T-Mobile and Sprint promised the merger would result in at least 600 new stores in small towns and rural areas nationwide, along with thousands of new retail and customer service jobs by 2021. The companies also said they would need to hire about 1,800 workers by 2021 to transition the T-Mobile and Sprint networks in rural areas and expand rural coverage, Schmidt reports.

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