SoftBank CEO Itching for ‘Heavyweight Fight’

Masayoshi Son said a Sprint-T-Mobile merger could compete with Verizon and AT&T — and benefit consumers.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son.
National Journal
March 11, 2014, 11:46 a.m.

In his first speech be­fore a U.S. audi­ence, Soft­Bank CEO Masay­oshi Son ap­pealed to Amer­ic­an ex­cep­tion­al­ism to make the case for his Sprint’s much-dis­cussed plan to pur­chase T-Mo­bile.

“How can the Amer­ic­an people ac­cept the fact that it is No. 15 in the most im­port­ant in­form­a­tion high­way in the next cen­tury?” Son asked his audi­ence at the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, re­fer­ring to the mo­bile broad­band speed rank­ing for the United States.

His solu­tion? An­oth­er jug­ger­naut to chal­lenge Ve­r­i­zon and AT&T, build in­fra­struc­ture, and drive down prices. Son didn’t ex­pli­citly men­tion T-Mo­bile dur­ing his speech, but he told re­port­ers after the event that Soft­Bank has not yet de­cided to pur­chase the com­pany.

He hopes to meet again with the U.S. reg­u­lat­ors who would have to ap­prove the mer­ger. After earli­er meet­ings, the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion and the Justice De­part­ment raised an­ti­trust con­cerns, fear­ing that a mar­ket with few­er car­ri­ers would de­crease com­pet­i­tion. Justice an­ti­trust head Bill Baer has said he prefers a four-car­ri­er mar­ket­place, and FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the mer­ger.

Son, who Monday vowed a “price war” if his com­pany is able to pur­chase T-Mo­bile, said the mer­ger would give him the size he needs to be a real com­pet­it­or — and to help U.S. con­sumers. “We need scale to have a real fight,” Son told re­port­ers. “We need a real heavy­weight fight.”

In his speech, he ref­er­enced Soft­Bank’s ini­tial for­ay in­to the Ja­pan­ese broad­band mar­ket, which “broke the price wall” but ini­tially cost his com­pany bil­lions. That same ap­proach, he said, could be a boon to U.S. con­sumers if Sprint ac­quires the re­sources to com­pete. “I’d like to be a third al­tern­at­ive with 10 times the speed and lower the price and change the U.S. situ­ation as I did in Ja­pan,” Son said.

U.S. phone users may not real­ize that their speeds are ac­tu­ally slow­ing, Son said, com­par­ing them to cit­izens in Beijing who be­come so used to smog, they for­get there was once clear air. “You have to re­mem­ber the blue sky,” he said.

Ed­it­or’s Note: Na­tion­al Journ­al Pres­id­ent Bruce Got­tlieb, who is leav­ing the com­pany to be­come an ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent with Soft­bank Inc., played no role in this art­icle and has re­cused him­self from any dis­cus­sions of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions cov­er­age.

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