By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, March 11 The chief executive officer
of Japan's SoftBank Corp on Tuesday called the U.S. wireless
market an oligopoly plagued by slow speeds and high prices and
said his company's Sprint Corp could shake up the
competition, but it would require a scale that Sprint cannot
Masayoshi Son, the billionaire CEO of SoftBank, in
his first public speech to a U.S. audience since his company
gained control of Sprint last year, lambasted the U.S.
wireless market as offering "pseudo-competition."
Son did not directly speak about his efforts to engineer a
merger of Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc, the No. 3 and No.
4 U.S. wireless carriers, but told reporters he hoped to meet
again sometime with U.S. regulators, who so far have given a
cold shoulder to such a deal.
He made a pitch for Sprint to not only challenge its
traditional wireless competitors - No. 1 player Verizon
Communications Inc and No. 2 AT&T Inc - but also
wireline Internet providers such as Comcast Corp.
"I brought the network war and price war (to Japan). I'd
like to bring that to the States," Son told an audience of
industry officials at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"I would like to provide an alternative to the oligopolistic
situation that two-thirds of American households can only get
access to one or two providers. I'd like to be a third
alternative with 10 times the speed and lower price."
Son said Sprint has the same type of radio frequencies that
helped SoftBank compete in Japan and SoftBank has technologies
that could boost speeds and lower prices, but his companies
needed more towers and other support to properly challenge the
biggest Internet providers.
"We have the spectrum. We have the technology. But we need
scale, efficiency to make an investment for the network," Son
told reporters after his speech.
"We are already free cash-flow negative. So we can start a
small fight but it does not scale, it does not last, it's not
sustainable. We need to have a real fight, a long and deep and
heavy fight. And for that, we need scale."
Both the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission,
Tom Wheeler, and U.S. antitrust chief William Baer expressed
skepticism about a merger of Sprint and T-Mobile after Son's
round of meetings in Washington in February.
SoftBank is now focused on convincing the parties involved
with the merits of a merger, a senior company executive said,
adding that any moves toward pursuing a deal were now on hold.
The official declined to be named because he was not authorized
to speak about the matter publicly.
Son, who once threatened to set himself on fire as he pushed
Japanese regulators to let him set up a high-speed Internet
service, has shown he does not give up easily. He said he was
not planning on new meetings with U.S. regulators during this
trip, "but whenever we have the opportunity sometime in the
future, that is I think necessary."
Softbank said on Tuesday it hired Bruce Gottlieb as its
executive vice president for legal and regulatory affairs in
Washington. Gottlieb has been president of the National Journal
since 2012 and is a former chief counsel of the Federal
"Last year, we made the largest-ever foreign investment by a
Japanese company in the United States and we expect Bruce will
play a key role in helping us manage the investments we have
made in the U.S. mobile internet industry," SoftBank Holdings
Inc President Ron Fisher said in a statement.
Son has repeatedly expressed his desire to make SoftBank the
biggest mobile-related corporation in the world, and in the past
has harshly criticized U.S. mobile networks and the degree of
competition in the industry.
The potential for the deal and Son's criticisms have given
an edge to the dynamic among top wireless executives.
"If Mr. Son is having a bad experience with U.S. wireless,
it must be because he's using Sprint," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's
senior executive vice president for external and legislative
affairs, said jokingly in an emailed statement.
Even T-Mobile's CEO, John Legere, an avid user of social
media site Twitter, quipped last week, "Remember when people
actually liked @sprint? Yeah, me either. #SprintLikeHell"