The potential unification of Sprint
was undone by regulatory pressures exerted from both side of
the Atlantic. One of the main reasons for its failure was concern over the concentration of backbone assets the new company would have controlled.
In a brief statement, Bernard Ebbers, WorldCom president and chief
executive officer, said benefits of the merger had been clear and compelling.
“Opposition to the merger ultimately will reduce innovation and choice, and
raise the cost of telephone services, for residential customers,
particularly those in rural America,” Ebbers said.
The merger plan was not well received by federal regulators from the moment
it was announced last October. William Kennard, Federal Communications Commission chairman,
initially said the combination of the two companies would stifle
long-distance competition in the U.S.
When the U.S. Department of Justice
announced it would scrutinize the merger, Kennard said consumers were
better served by two companies, than one.
“I applaud the action by the Department of Justice to preserve competition
and protect consumers,” Kennard said. “In my view, American consumers are
better served if these companies continue to compete rather than combine.”
Bill Whyman, Precursor Group
Inc. president, said U.S. and European regulators feared that the
merger would cripple competition in Internet backbone services and
long-distance telephone markets.
“The DOJ and FCC opposed the merger due to its ability to stifle
competition in the long-distance market in the U.S.,” Whyman said. “The
European Union had a problem with the pact because the combined companies
could own 70 percent of the Internet’s backbone.”
Whyman said the EU did not like the deal because it could have allowed one
consolidated firm to monopolize data transport over the Internet.
“The EU opposed one party dominance of backbone services,” Whyman said.
“Customers naturally migrate to the fattest backbone with the biggest pipes
in search of efficiency. A combined WorldCom and Sprint could have used
their collective market power to degrade rivals connections, instill
transit charges and end free peering.”
WorldCom’s Ebbers made it clear that the company would not part with its UUNET backbone facilities. At the same
time, WorldCom said it might have parted with Sprint’s backbone operations
in order to gain regulatory approval of the merger.
Precursor Group’s Whyman said that the merger has been dead for a long
time, the statement made today merely throws dirt on the deal to bury it.
“Calling off the merger is no surprise,” Whyman said. “The merger’s been
dead for a long time. Today’s announcement is a tactical advance in that it
enables both companies to cut ties and cease compliance with the no-shop
provision, which kept each company out of striking new deals. Both
companies are in play now.”
The failure of the merger between the second and third largest U.S.
long-distance companies has already prompted rumors that Deutsche Telekom AG may be
interested in acquiring Sprint.
Wyman said that a Deutsche Telekom, Sprint deal stood a better chance of
surviving regulatory scrutiny.
“A Deutsche Telekom, Sprint merger would not face the same regulatory
woes,” Whyman said. “It would allow federal regulators to leverage a trade
deal with no implications of potential backbone or long-distance monopolies.”