Yes, Trump is still talking about the same SoftBank fund that has nothing to do with him.
In a convoluted turn of self promotion, the President-elect just revisited his not-so-humblebrag from earlier this month, falsely taking credit for SoftBank’s Vision Fund, a joint $100 billion plan between SoftBank and Saudi Arabia to invest in emerging technologies. As announced in October, the fund’s creators plan to seed it with $25 billion and $45 billion respectively over the next five years.
Given that Silicon Valley is world capital of tech innovation, a lot of that money was bound to land stateside regardless of Trump’s claims to take credit after the fact. Nonetheless, Trump continues to tout his election win for SoftBank’s pre-existing plan to create 50,000 U.S. jobs through its investments in Sprint, OneWeb and the Vision Fund.
“I was just called by the head people at Sprint, and they are going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States,” Trump told reporters. “They have taken them from other countries. They are bringing them back to the United States… and also OneWeb, a new company, is going to be hiring 3,000 people.”
SoftBank—and Sprint, by proxy—appear to be happy to play along with Trump’s creative PR flourishes, and with good reason. Coziness with the Trump administration could grease the wheels on a rumored acquisition of T-Mobile in a bid to combine the third and fourth largest carriers in the U.S.
Earlier in December, SoftBank CEO and Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son explained his relationship with Trump, stating that he visited Trump Tower to “celebrate his presidential job and commit because he will do a lot of deregulation.”
SoftBank’s interest in purchasing T-Mobile is well known. In a 2014 interview with Bloomberg, Son emphasized that his decision to buy a majority stake in Sprint will only work if the company can scale considerably and compete:
“The U.S. market is pretty much a duopoly. I always felt that we were coming to the U.S. market after it was already basically game over. The top two duopolists have such a strong brand, strong networks, strong customer bases. [Still] this is the richest market in the world, the center of innovation for the Internet. Mobile service is migrating from voice-centric service to data-centric service. We may have the last opportunity. If we have any chance to build a meaningful competitor, our Internet background may help a little bit on that end. But we need scale.”
Later in 2014, SoftBank was said to have abandoned its plans for a potential merger, discouraged by U.S. antitrust regulation. That’s where the Trump administration comes in. Son’s interest in buying T-Mobile might have quieted down, but rumors suggest that it has not waned leading into late 2016.
The Trump administration means renewed hope for the deregulation that would make SoftBank’s long game acquisition of T-Mobile possible. Known telecommunications deregulator Brandt Hershman bubbled up in rumors about FCC appointments and Trump transition team member Mark Jamison has even questioned the existence of the FCC altogether:
“Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away. Telecommunications network providers and ISPs are rarely, if ever, monopolies. If there are instances where there are monopolies, it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services.”
Letting Trump falsely claim credit for SoftBank’s U.S. job creation seems like a small price to pay for a merger that could pave the way for the company’s grand 300 year plan.