T-Mobile’s CEO Is a Walking, Trash-Talking Reminder of Why We Need Wireless Competition

John Legere may not be couth, but he knows how to kick his corporate rivals in the pants.

John Legere may not be couth, but he knows how to kick his corporate rivals in the pants.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Among the big four mobile carriers in the United States, T-Mobile styles itself as the rebellious underdog—the magenta-hued “uncarrier” that’s unleashing customers from long-term contracts and exorbitant roaming charges.

At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, though, trash-talking T-Mobile CEO John Legere got disruptive in a more literal sense. As CNET’s Roger Cheng reported, Legere crashed a swank party that rival AT&T was throwing for its developers at the Palms Hotel on Monday night. (Among other attractions, the rapper Macklemore gave a live concert.) Legere even stopped to take a quick photo with Cheng, which the latter promptly tweeted.

Then, 15 minutes later:

Legere told Re/Code’s Ina Fried afterward that “all of a sudden these gigantic goons said, ‘Can I talk to you over here,’” and then told him he’d be charged with trespassing if he didn’t leave immediately. Characteristically, Legere took the chance to get in a dig at AT&T’s business, telling Fried he could have cut prices for subscribers with all the money AT&T spent on the shindig.

But the best part was his excuse for why he showed up in the first place: “I just wanted to hear Macklemore.”

The dustup marks an amusing new high point in an increasingly bitter war of words and service plans between the two providers. AT&T has been locked in a battle for U.S. wireless supremacy with Verizon, and has said in the past that it’s not worried about T-Mobile, which has less than half as many subscribers. Recently, though, it has started offering T-Mobile customers hundreds of dollars in credit if they switch to AT&T, which Legere has called a “desperate move.” Indeed, T-Mobile has been gaining ground lately in terms of new subscribers, many of them at the expense of beleagured also-ran Sprint.

T-Mobile is expected to unveil its own incentives at CES on Wednesday, amid speculation that it will try to one-up its rivals by offering to pay their customers’ early-termination fees if they switch to T-Mobile.

The juicy rivalry is almost enough to make you forget that the two companies tried to merge just two years ago, in a deal that was nixed by the Department of Justice on antitrust grounds. Back then I wrote a somewhat contrarian piece arguing that the DoJ shouldn’t have intervened—that the merger wouldn’t have harmed consumers, and might well have helped them. I was wrong: T-Mobile is proving pluckier than I’d imagined, and its budding rivalry with stodgy AT&T is a reminder of what makes competition great—not to mention just plain fun.

The latest rumors once again have T-Mobile pairing off with Sprint. This time I’m agin’ it—especially if it means the ouster of Legere and the transformation of the “uncarrier” into just another member of a fat and happy wireless triopoly.

(Those in the market for some more data-driven reasons to oppose the merger should read Lydia DePillis’s recent post on Wonkblog.)