Dish’s 5G Network, The Trump DOJ ‘Fix’ For Harmful Wireless Consolidation, May Miss A Major Deadline

from the sound-and-fury dept

Two years ago the Trump DOJ and FCC rubber stamped the Sprint T-Mobile merger without heeding experts warnings that the reduced competition would likely degrade service, kill jobs, and slowly raise rates. Working closely with T-Mobile and Dish, the FCC and DOJ “antitrust enforcers” unveiled what they claimed was a “fix” for the problematic nature of the deal: they’d cobble together a fourth major replacement wireless carrier in Dish Network.

As we noted a few times the proposal was never likely to succeed. One, because Dish had no track record in this space outside of a parade of empty promises. Two, because the remaining three providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) want less price competition and would be incentivized at every step to ensure it fails. Three, because the government would not likely dole out more than wrist slaps should Dish miss major build out milestones.

So far, things are going just about as well as you’d expect. T-Mobile has already laid off 5,000 employees, and the plan has been mired with endless squabbling between T-Mobile and Dish. And both the beta and commercial launch of Dish’s 5G network, first in Las Vegas, keeps being delayed

FCC rules require that Dish deploy its shiny new 5G network to 20 percent of the U.S. public by June. But so far, the promised network consists of a relatively underwhelming not-even-public-beta deployment in Las Vegas. To be clear there is something being built in Las Vegas, and Samsung just announced it would be providing radios for the project, but it’s still not clear the effort will ever really scale:

The project has been plagued with delays, and for those keeping score at home, June is next month. Dish’s last earnings call didn’t paint the rosiest picture of the network’s current status, either; as of February, the network was still in beta testing with friends and family in Las Vegas. Vegas has a lot of things, but it does not, in fact, include 20 percent of the US population within its borders.

Dish is spending big bucks to get this deployed, but Wall Street has been skeptical if it’s willing and able to spend the kind of money that will truly be needed to build a viable fourth competitor with the runway it has.

If Dish meets its June deadline, it then has to focus on delivering 5G service to 70 percent of the US population by 2023. But the company’s satellite TV service has been losing subscribers hand over fist. Dish has also been losing what few wireless customers (mostly prepaid, MVNO users) it already has.

Dish has been hoovering up valuable spectrum for years, and stringing regulators along that entire way as the value of that spectrum appreciates (just ask T-Mobile). It’s not entirely clear that this current FCC will dole out more than a few wrist slaps should Dish miss its deadline. It’s also not clear that the network, which Dish says will be largely focused on the enterprise “Internet of things” market, will ever become the T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon direct competitor the Trump DOJ and FCC promised, even if successful.

I can still see this project easily falling apart, with Ergen cashing out his massive spectrum holdings, selling his incomplete build to one of America’s three major remaining wireless carriers, and riding off into retirement. And despite the show and initial expense, I’m still not sure that wasn’t the entire plan all along. Especially for regulators looking to find ways to justify rubber stamping consolidation.

If that winds up being the case, absolutely nobody anywhere will be held responsible for any of it, and any fines doled out against Dish will be miniscule in relation to the money made off of a spectrum sale. All thanks to the fact that competent telecom oversight isn’t something the U.S. government does.

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Companies: dish, sprint, t-mobile

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