Earlier this month, DISH Network filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an attempt to block T-Mobile from buying Columbia Capital’s low-band 600MHz spectrum. The deal has been waiting for final approval from the FCC since late 2022.
DISH Network claims that unless the FCC blocks or modifies T-Mobile’s purchase, the company could have an unfair advantage over other network providers. In the petition filed on May 4th, 2023, DISH Network outlines its seemingly valid concerns.
“Without conditions, allowing T-Mobile to Acquire more 600 MHz spectrum could harm the public interest… granting T-Mobile even more 600 MHz spectrum would contravene the Commission’s competition-related spectrum licensing objectives by enabling TMobile to inhibit other competitors from fully utilizing holdings in the band.”
The petition goes on to allege, “These harms are not just theoretical – they are ones T-Mobile itself has emphasized previously. For example, during the Commission’s review of rules related to the 600 MHz Incentive Auction, T-Mobile explained that ‘[w]ithout meaningful access to . . . spectrum resources, competitors are simply circling the drain.’ T-Mobile described that auction as the ‘last, best chance for effective facilities-based competition in the United States in a market that policymakers have expressed a preference for four carriers to compete.’”
The FCC has been investigating spectrum screen for nearly 20 years but typically does not prevent purchasing spectrum. DISH Network is requesting the FCC take a detailed look at the upcoming T-Mobile/Columbia Capital deal because, if it goes through, will own more than a third of the total amount of spectrum currently available on the market. Attempts to do so warrant an investigation, as outlined by FCC protocol.
DISH Network’s petition further states that:
“T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings today already exceed the FCC’s spectrum screen in many markets. DISH’s analysis indicates that T-Mobile already exceeds the screen in 127 CMAs. In 64 of those CMAs, T-Mobile exceeds the screen by at least 20 MHz. The highest excess is in McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, where T-Mobile’s holdings are 71 MHz above the current screen limit (446 MHz minus 375 MHz). Notably, T-Mobile’s holdings are in many of the top 25 CMAs. And, T-Mobile already holds more than one-third of below-1 GHz spectrum in 12 CMAs. The average amount of spectrum that T-Mobile holds across those markets is 72 MHz.”
DISH Network’s proposed solutions are to convince the FCC to address competitive harms by imposing conditions designed to prevent other carriers from basically having all the available 600 MHz bought out from under them. If the company succeeds with its challenge of the purchase, it could help even the playing field for other providers.