If there ever were a “honeymoon,” it’s definitely over between Dish Network and T-Mobile. A year ago, they were practically best buds as Dish served an important role in T-Mobile getting the regulatory OK to merge with Sprint. But today, Dish is accusing the “un-carrier” of some very “carrier-like” behavior, and the relationship is soured, to say the least.
“As T-Mobile celebrates the one-year anniversary of its acquisition of Sprint, it is clear that the company’s worldview has transformed to that of an entrenched incumbent commensurate with its newfound size and scale,” Dish wrote in an April 1 filing with the FCC. “During its earlier life as the ‘Un-Carrier,’ T-Mobile championed policies that promoted competition, diverse spectrum ownership, and efficient spectrum use. How quickly things change.”
These days, “T-Mobile opposes measures that would help new entrants and smaller providers compete using CBRS licenses, participate in a globally scaled equipment market, and promote American 5G leadership,” Dish asserted.
Dish’s disdain for T-Mobile’s decision to shut down the Sprint CDMA network by January 2022 is well known – it’s going to affect millions of Boost Mobile subscribers. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen noted the “anti-competitive” nature of the move in the company’s most recent quarterly conference call.
But things are piling up, including lobbying efforts related to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band and the way they want the FCC to configure rules for 3.45 GHz spectrum. Both CBRS at 3.5 GHz and 3.45 GHz are key mid-band areas where Dish would like to compete more aggressively against T-Mobile’s stockpile of 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum. The 3.45 GHz auction is expected to start in October whereas 3.5 GHz licenses were auctioned last year.
After Verizon, Dish was the second largest total winning bidder, pledging over $912.9 million in the CBRS auction of Priority Access Licenses (PALs). T-Mobile won eight PALs in six counties, committing to pay $5,583,000.
“It is ironic that T-Mobile, with the largest spectrum trove in the United States, is against increasing the utility of CBRS licenses held by other competitors,” Dish told the commission. “No doubt they would take a different approach if they had real ownership of CBRS spectrum; in fact, T-Mobile itself had previously argued for increasing the power levels in these bands. Dish’s goal is to enrich the utility of the CBRS spectrum to bring connectivity to Americans, promote competition, and ensure our country’s leadership in 5G.”
Dish argues that increasing CBRS power levels, through a new category of devices, will enhance the utility of the entire 3 GHz band and won’t harm incumbents, General Authorized Access (GAA) users or other PAL winners. Aligning CBRS power levels with spectrum neighbors at 3.45-3.55 GHz and the 3.7 GHz C-band would result in increased end user 5G data rates with minimal impact to the Spectrum Access System (SAS), according to the satellite TV company.
T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Dish’s latest filing. However, it has said that Dish’s requests for changes to the CBRS band don’t belong in the 3.45 GHz proceeding and could jeopardize the FCC’s ability to meet Congress’ deadline for the 3.45 GHz auction.
T-Mobile also accused Dish of proposing rules that would extend Dish’s “history of enriching itself while delaying the deployment of spectrum and services,” something that Dish has been accused of doing over many years.
“It is no surprise that Dish, which has consistently delayed use of spectrum for which it is authorized, urges the Commission to delay performance obligations for the 3.45 GHz band,” T-Mobile wrote in the March 10 filing. “The Commission should reject Dish’s continued spectrum hoarding efforts… The race to 5G will not be won by warehousing spectrum.”
Sprint CMDA shutdown
Dish also complained formally to the FCC about T-Mobile’s intentions of shutting down the Sprint CDMA network sooner than it had expected. Dish cited a July 2019 SEC filing and T-Mobile statements made to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) about a three-year transition period, whereby Dish would have been given more time to transition customers from the CDMA network. Instead, T-Mobile has informed Dish that the CMDA network will shut down on January 1, 2022.
Dish also noted how Verizon extended its CDMA network shutdown three times – it’s now scheduled for a shutdown at the end of 2022 in order to minimize disruptions for customers.
“A forced migration of this scale under this accelerated time frame is simply not possible and will leave potentially millions of Boost subscribers disenfranchised and without cell service come January 1, 2022,” wrote Dish counsel Jeffrey Blum. “This is especially the case given significant device/chip shortages that make it even more difficult to acquire compatible replacement devices prior to the shutdown.”