T-Mobile’s CDMA shutdown already harms consumers, says coalition

A group of organizations — including the Open Technology Institute at New America and the Rural Wireless Association — sent a letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel yesterday, asking her to intervene in the dispute between T-Mobile and Dish regarding the shutdown of T-Mobile’s 3G CDMA network.

The organizations, which sent their letter collectively under the title “Public Interest Spectrum Coalition” (PISC), want the FCC to exercise its powers to make sure that Boost Mobile prepaid subscribers don’t lose their service at the end of the year.

PISC said the announced CDMA shutdown has already had disruptive impacts. Rural Wireless Association members have reported that T-Mobile’s shutdown of portions of the CDMA network that is now in process has already prevented some rural customers from roaming when they leave their home networks. “Because they are unable to connect to a network, these roaming customers cannot make 911 calls [or] other emergency related calls,” stated PISC.

In late 2020, T-Mobile announced it plans to retire its CDMA network on January 1, 2022. T-Mobile argues that it needs to re-farm the spectrum as it pursues its aggressive 5G buildout.

But Dish is relying on T-Mobile’s CDMA network to serve about half of its 9 million Boost Mobile customers. Dish bought Boost as part of the overall deal for T-Mobile to acquire Sprint and for Dish to become a fourth infrastructure-based wireless carrier in the U.S. Dish was planning to use T-Mobile’s 3G CDMA network until July 2023 while it gets its own network built.

The spat between Dish and T-Mobile has gotten quite heated. Dish claims T-Mobile is deliberately engaging in anticompetitive behavior to hobble Dish’s efforts to compete as a national mobile provider.

RELATED: Dish’s Ergen sees T-Mobile as magenta Grinch

Yesterday, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen sent a letter to 13 senators, saying, "T-Mobile’s decision to shut down the CDMA network significantly earlier than the company promised regulators raises serious competitive and consumer protection issues that are worthy of your review.”

Ergen also said, “The bottom line is this: T-Mobile’s anticompetitive Grinch-like decision to accelerate the shutdown of its CDMA network will likely harm millions of Boost customers that depend on access to this network for wireless connectivity, disproportionately impacting low-income consumers who over-index in communities of color.”

The PISC group is not as concerned about the fight between T-Mobile and Dish as it is about vulnerable low-income customers losing their mobile services.

“We urge the Commission to require both licensees to work together to establish a reasonable transition schedule that allows T-Mobile efficiently to re-farm valuable spectrum for 5G services while simultaneously protecting subscribers and promoting competition,” said the coalition.

The group said that the FCC “has primary responsibility” to ensure that 2G and 3G sunsets go smoothly and protect vulnerable stakeholders. And in the spat between Dish and T-Mobile, the group asks the FCC to mediate, first as an “honest broker,” but if necessary “to exercise regulatory authority over the parties.”