While antitrust regulators are busy cracking down on big tech, two wireless behemoths have secured approval from a federal judge for their $26.5 billion all-stock merger.

On Tuesday, US District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in favor of the controversial combination of T-Mobile and smaller rival Sprint. The decision represents a defeat for a group that includes 13 states and the District of Columbia, all of which have challenged the tie-up.

The saga stretches back to April 2018, when T-Mobile initially agreed to buy Sprint. The deal received the green light from the Department of Justice last July, with Dish Network agreeing to acquire a reported $5 billion worth of Sprint and T-Mobile assets as part of an approval requirement that looks to make Dish a viable competitor. The Federal Communications Commission announced its support of the merger in November, and a multistate anti-competition trial then followed in December.

The complicated approval process that the wireless carriers' merger has undergone underscores a regulatory environment defined by escalating antitrust concerns.

On Monday, Edgewell, the maker of Schick razors, reportedly abandoned plans to pay about $1.37 billion for VC-backed razor rival Harry's after the FTC said it would sue to block the deal last week. And on Tuesday, the same day the Sprint/T-Mobile verdict was handed out, the government agency demanded information from five tech giants—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet—about acquisitions of smaller companies that took place between 2010 and 2019 and were not reported to antitrust agencies under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.

The FTC said it plans to use this information to examine deal trends and look at how small companies fared post-acquisition. The move will help "keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement.

That antitrust momentum has been building for awhile: Nearly a year ago, the FTC created a 17-attorney "Technology Task Force" to review big tech deals, including previously approved ones.

Google also faces a mounting antitrust probe focused on its online advertising tools. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice reached out to more than 12 companies, including advertisers and publishers, to further investigate Google's third-party advertising business, according to The Wall Street Journal.


Despite Sprint and T-Mobile's courtroom triumph, the wireless giants still aren't fully in the clear. The California Public Utilities Commission must still approve of the combination, and New York Attorney General Letitia James said she is reviewing options, including an appeal. "We disagree with this decision wholeheartedly, and will continue to fight the kind of consumer-harming megamergers our antitrust laws were designed to prevent," she said in a statement.

For now, though, the situation looks much improved for the companies involved.

The cellphone industry may be in for a shake-up: If the merger goes through, it would leave just three national reigning carriers—AT&T, Verizon and the combined Sprint/T-Mobile.

Sprint's shares (NYSE: S) soared above 77% in the ruling's wake on Tuesday, while T-Mobile's shares (Nasdaq: TMUS) closed up more than 11%. On the flip side, shares of AT&T and Verizon remained relatively steady in comparison.
 

Related read: Big tech keeps up acquisitions amid antitrust probes


Featured image via Alex Wong/Getty Images North America
 

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