Dish and T-Mobile’s Spat Over Spectrum Sale Is Just Getting Uglier




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T-Mobile’s sale of a swath of spectrum to Dish Network was supposed to be a simple transaction. But instead it’s devolved into a war of words and legal filings, with Dish firing the latest salvo and accusing the wireless carrier of stomping on the little guy.

Dish had previously agreed to buy a chunk of the 800 Mhz spectrum from T-Mobile for $3.6 billion. But the satellite TV provider, saddled with more than $21 billion in debt, asked a federal court to grant it an additional 10 months to secure financing. T-Mobile, however, wants Dish to go through with the deal now and asked the court to reject the request.

Dish on Friday shot back with a response that accused T-Mobile of backing out of its obligation to help create a competitive fourth wireless carrier.

“T-Mobile’s objection to DISH’s extension request should be seen for what it is: an attempt by the market leader to hinder a nascent competitor, one that has taken on the Herculean task of building a modern nationwide facilities-based wireless network in a period of unprecedented economic turmoil,” read the complaint.

It’s the latest turn in back-and-forth drama between T-Mobile and Dish, who have been linked for the last few years as the wireless industry has transformed. Dish played a key role in getting the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint completed, allowing it to become the market leader that it is today. Regulators wanted a fourth national competitor to replace Sprint, saw Dish as a solution. To build up it’s wireless presence, T-Mobile sold Sprint’s Boost Mobile prepaid business and was obligated to sell wireless spectrum to Dish.

The 800 Mhz band of radio airwaves is valuable because of its far-reaching coverage range, which would help Dish get to its obligation of covering 75% of the nation by 2025.  

Dish, however, is requesting to hold off on the purchase until June 30, 2024.

Its filing makes the case that T-Mobile trying to back out of the deal, or force Dish to complete the transaction when it lacks the funding, is an attempt to go back on the spirit of the agreement with regulators. It also makes the argument that the unprecedented rise in interest rates was unforeseen and that the court should grant the extension.

Dish has struggled to get a big wireless presence off the ground. The satellite TV provider had been accumulating spectrum for years before acquiring Sprint’s pre-paid Boost assets and moving into the wireless business. But Dish has been steadily losing Boost customers for the last two years and its own 5G service isn’t widely available.

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