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Verizon officially buys TracFone, Straight Talk and Walmart Family users keep the LifeLine subsidy

TracFone, America's largest virtual operator that piggybacks on all of the big guys' networks, used to be all for Sprint's merger with T-Mobile. It argued before the FCC that the wedding of what were at the time the third and fourth largest US carriers will increase their coverage in rural areas more efficiently, and result in three full-service competitors, rather than the current Verizon/AT&T duopoly there. Fast forward a year or two, and it's exactly Verizon that just got the FCC nod to acquire TracFone.

Given that one of the reasons the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint faced scrutiny by the FCC was that the deal may impact the number of virtual operators, Verizon's buyout of TracFone took a long and winding route to be approved after Big Red first announced the acquisition more than a year ago. Well, the deed is done, and Verizon's statement on the matter is thanking everyone involved and promises that current TracFone customers will continue to be served well by the new owner:

Verizon welcomes the FCC’s approval today of our TracFone acquisition. The deal will provide customers with the best of both worlds: more choices, better services and new features thanks to Verizon’s investment and innovation. Customers will benefit with enhancements in devices, network performance and innovative products and services -- as well as a continued commitment to Lifeline. We thank Chairwoman Rosenworcel, the Commissioners, and the FCC staff for their leadership and commitment to the public interest. We also want to thank the commissioners, ALJ and staff of the California Public Utilities Commission, as well as many community-based organizations that expressed support for this transaction. We will work hard to serve TracFone’s current customers and look forward to serving new ones in this dynamic and fast-growing marketplace.

TracFone was a property of one of the world's richest people, America Movil owner Carlos Slim, and is an umbrella operator for a number of extremely popular prepaid brands. It houses Straight Talk, Simple Mobile and Walmart Family Mobile - all prepaid juggernauts that collectively hold more than 20 million customers in the US.

It remains to be seen if Tracfone customers will be able to keep their current prepaid plans, will be pushed into different tiers like T-Mobile did with Sprint's subscribers, or if Verizon have other plans for the virtual carrier altogether. After all, Verizon promised to continue supporting Tracfone's low-income subscribers for three years after the deal closes and offer them subsidized 5G service, and the clock just started ticking.

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