Dish asks for waiver to FCC's 700 MHz buildout requirements

Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) has requested that the FCC waive its network buildout requirements on the 700 MHz E Block spectrum that Dish acquired during the FCC's 2008 auction. Dish said that a number of factors, including a lack of suitable equipment and ongoing uncertainty over interference, have prevented the company from building out a network in the spectrum.

Dish's EchoStar, bidding under the name of Frontier Wireless, paid around $700 million for 168 licenses across the country in the E Block during the FCC's 700 MHz spectrum auction. Since then, Dish (through its subsidiary Manifest Wireless) has been testing a range of mobile TV technologies in the E Block, including Advanced Television Systems Committee - Mobile/Handheld (ATSC M/H), Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld (DVB-H), Digital Video Broadcasting - Satellite Services to Handhelds (DVB-SH), and China Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting (CMMB).

However, in a recent filing with the FCC, Dish said it won't be able to meet the FCC's network buildout requirements for the E Block, which call for licensees to "provide signal coverage and offer service over at least 35 percent of the geographic area of each of their license authorizations no later than June 13, 2013." Dish is requesting the FCC either abandon its buildout requirements completely or delay them until after the interference concerns are addressed or 700 MHz E block devices become available.

Specifically, Dish argued that the FCC's investigation into a 700 MHz interoperability mandate has created a cloud over the requirements for the E Block. Lower 700 MHz B and C Block licensees have argued that operations in the E Block will interference in their systems, and have requested that the FCC reduce the maximum power for E Block base stations from 50 kW to 1,000 watts in urban areas, and to 2,000 watts in rural areas--which Dish said represents a reduction of 98 percent and 96 percent, respectively.

"Because power levels fundamentally impact network design and deployment strategies, this cloud of uncertainty materially frustrates the efforts of E Block licensees and equipment vendors to make substantial investments of additional capital in E Block deployments," Dish noted.

Further, the company said "there are no devices available" that could support mobile video services in the E Block.

The FCC has not yet made a decision on the issue, and Dish declined to provide further comment.

Interestingly, in its filing with the FCC, Dish offered an update on its current activities in the E Block. The company said it is "evaluating the use of the ATSC M/H mobile waveform in a fixed environment in order to determine if this will improve the reliable reception distance of a 50 kW signal." The company said it has teamed with Pericle Communications for a propagation analysis of each of its test tower sites, and it expects to obtain the results of those tests "in the next few months." Dish said it is also considering Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS)  technology.

Further, Dish noted that it has filed a "work item" with the 3GPP to use carrier aggregation technology to combine Band 29 (which includes the combined Lower 700 MHz D and E Blocks) with Band 23 (which includes the AWS-4 spectrum that Dish purchased last year). "Manifest could not meaningfully begin work at 3GPP to combine Band 23 and Band 29 until late 2012 at the earliest. Approval of Band 23/29 carrier aggregation is the first step in developing chipsets and consumer equipment," the company noted.

Finally, Dish said it might consider leasing its E Block spectrum to Fanvision, which last year leased the spectrum to broadcast in-venue content to fans at various live sports arenas via its Fanvision device. Dish said it is "continuing dialogue with Fanvision regarding the upcoming 2013 NFL season, in some of these same license areas and possibly others."

Dish's E Block spectrum is one tiny part of the company's overall efforts in wireless. Dish has formally given up on its bids to acquire Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR). However, Dish has reportedly submitted a bid for LightSquared's spectrum holdings, which could be added to the 40 MHz of S-band satellite spectrum in the 2 GHz band that Dish paid $2.775 billion to acquire. Analysts have also predicted Dish could bid for T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS).

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)

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