Dish Buys Ting Mobile To Disrupt Wireless, But Questions Remain
from the steep-uphill-climb dept
We’ve noted repeatedly that not only did the Trump FCC and DOJ rubber stamp the controversial T-Mobile and Sprint merger, they willfully ignored data showing the deal would result in high prices, lower overall sector pay, fewer jobs, and less overall competition. As most objective antitrust and telecom experts predicted, the ink was barely dry on the deal before the pink slips started to arrive. The higher rates will still likely take a few more years to materialize as the remaining three industry players (T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon) perfect their ability to pretend to compete on price without actually doing so.
Over at the DOJ, top “antitrust enforcer” Makan Delrahim not only ignored hard data and critics of the deal, he actively helped guide T-Mobile executives to deal completion (if you’re unaware, folks tasked with leading the governments antitrust enforcement efforts most assuredly should not be doing that).
To try and justify this grotesque regulatory capture, the DOJ came up with a bad idea: it would require T-Mobile offload some spectrum and its Boost Mobile prepaid brand to Dish Network, which would then, theoretically, try and build a replacement carrier for Sprint over a period of 7 years. For much of that time Dish will simply operate as a glorified MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) on T-Mobile’s network and be subject to T-Mobile whims.
The problem: Dish has a long history of hoarding valuable spectrum and promising to build a wireless network and then, you know, not doing that (just ask pre-merger T-Mobile). The other problem: shepherding such a deal to completion requires the current FCC (rabidly proud of “hands off,” “light touch” regulation) to aggressively nanny this deal to completion, something that simply isn’t in Ajit Pai’s ideological nature. The remaining three players in the space (T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon) have every motivation to try and scuttle the creation of this fourth competitor to avoid having to actually (gasp) compete on price.
Throughout, there have been questions about just how serious Dish is. Again, the company has a long history of buying up valuable spectrum and then doing absolutely nothing with it. Dish’s spectrum holdings are extremely valuable, and critics have long wondered if the company is just stringing feckless U.S. regulators along until it can sell its spectrum at a steep premium.
Whether Dish is serious still isn’t really a settled question, but the company continues to give every impression it may genuinely want to disrupt wireless as a survival strategy in the wake of its struggling traditional TV business. That manifested this week in the acquisition of Tucows’ Ting, a small MVNO that had been making slow inroads as a minor player in the wireless space. In a blog post, Ting insists that nothing will really change at the small operation now that it has been acquired by a major corporation engaged in (hopefully) a massive disruption play:
“DISH enters the mobile market with a well-established, well-loved brand in Ting Mobile, a wonderful customer base in you and a proven platform on which to build its mobile service. It also gets a strong, smart partner (if we do say so ourselves) to support its mobile business moving forward. As for DISH?s big plans in mobile, much has been written on that topic. We?re happy to be a part of these plans.
From the sounds of things this isn’t a full acquisition of all Ting assets (Ting’s fiber efforts will not be part of the deal). Users in the comments of the blog post were skeptical that selling a small upstart with a focus on consumers to a giant satellite TV company with a long history of obnoxious executive leadership won’t result in some obvious changes:
“I will say I’m disappointed and incredibly wary. Ting is a brand I have high confidence in. Dish is a brand I have zero confidence in. “Nothing changes today.” But changes will come. Sadly, I will not be surprised if I find myself shopping for a new provider once they start.”
Maybe this all ends with Dish Network shifting from the dying satellite TV sector and becoming a major rival to AT&T and Verizon, but I remain wary. AT&T and Verizon play dirty pool in the DC lobbying realm, and both will do absolutely everything in their power to disrupt the creation of a viable fourth replacement price competitor. And if Trump is re-elected, his “light touch” (read: utterly apathetic to all consumer issues, competitive problems, and price gouging) FCC simply lacks the backbone or ideological motivation to hold any of these companies seriously accountable should their promises wind up being little more than hot air.
Pre-merger promises in the U.S. telecom sector simply don’t have a great track record, and I remain skeptical that this wasn’t just a regulatory stage play by the Barr DOJ to help justify apathy toward reduced competition, resulting in Dish profitably cashing out of its spectrum holdings a few years from now. And while it’s certainly possible Dish can become a major replacement fourth competitor for Sprint, it’s the sort of thing you should probably believe only once you’ve seen it accomplished.