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.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, mvno, wireless
Companies: dish, ting, tucows


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  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 8:00am

    I love Ting! Their customer service is top-notch. They usually actually deliver on promises. Simple, easy-to-follow billing. No contracts. Inexpensive, as long as you don't use a lot of mobile data, which is billed at a fixed rate. Tethering treated like any other data. All devices pull from the same billing buckets, just $5/month per device to add another.

    I'm not ready to hold the funeral just yet, but let's just say I'm compiling the guest list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anon, 5 Aug 2020 @ 9:55am

    re;merger conditions

    I certainly hope that none of Ting's acquired assets are counted by the DoJ when Dish reports on their progress to become a wireless carrier.

    Also, don't the FCC spectrum autions have a use-it-or-lose-it stipulation in the contract? If Dish has spectrum that they aren't using, but was auctioned off with a set completion date, surely the FCC would simply recover, without compensation, the unused spectrum allocations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    timlash (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 11:11am

    Uneasy Ting Customer

    Absolutely have loved being a Ting customer for the last five years. My family has low data needs and we pay just $71/mo for all four of our phones (about $18/phone). Best deal I've seen coupled with unmatched customer service. I fear this may be peak Ting. We shall see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 1:20pm

    The perfect idea of capitalism..

    That many smaller companies wonder around, Finding things to make money from. And then compete to sell the most by Many means, they try.
    Make a better product,
    Make a newer product,
    Make a pretty product,
    Make a smaller product..
    But our system isnt that way.

    Corps dont like to compete. So 1 company buys another to get them out of the way, and raises Prices on their product to cover the cost of doing it..(look up Microsoft, activision, Apple, atari, history. Allot of companies got EATEN UP)
    Then If you cant buy them out, you make deals to WHERE each can sell goods. It used to be that the Mississippi was a Change point for most products int he USA..we dont use it anymore, and we have 1/10 the companies. Even after mabell was broken up into 20(?) different companies, they started Shuffling things. It gets harder and harder to figure Who owned whom. a card game with companies.. Verizon mobile, and ATT wireless, have so many Sub companies NOW, its hard to tell which system you are on.
    Hughes and Dish had a great idea, Cut the wires and go Direct TV with sat. But for some reason it didnt take off. All those TV corps and the power they had, stopped things from happening. And they got bought out.

    For all of this, we HAD regulations. Some controls. As long as things were working, and jobs were around, it wasnt so bad. But then came the cut backs, started back around late 1980's. From smaller local stores being closed to make LARGER/fewer stores, to cutting employees..

    Thjen we started filling our gov. with representatives, from the corps.. Thinking they know the business, and Could balance things better?? yep, in the other direction. And I love insider news/trading, as it made allot of people Allot of money, and where do you think that info came from??(why are we paying our gov. if they are making money under the table?) And Why is the Stock exchange so over blown? Lets raise the value of the USA corps based on nothing.. Lets make more stocks for that value. wonderful, now we have tons more investors, and more money. How much money? welllll.. Est. USA corp value past 100 times the amount of money in the world.

    So, What specialists does a corp need? Not that many. They dont change things much, and dont really want to. They dont want to ADD, New things that they cant control. And its fun trying to make NEW, when you have to compete with Copyrights, and Intellectual property, so WHY COMPETE, share with those others in the same business. $50 worth of tech in a $300+ box.. Why buy out other corps for Billions(?) when they arnt worth it? When those companies are loosing or messed up what they do, made contracts that are STUPID and costing them to much. Because as a GROUP they have power they can wield, Against the Channel companies and the contracts, alone they can only CUT the channels, and payout less, to keep alive. With all the corps Inflated Values, and inflated contracts.. BUY others that are also loosing, and DUMP it all at once, sell out to the larger corps, show a loss and walk away RICH AS HELL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Greg, 6 Aug 2020 @ 7:53am

      Re: The perfect idea of capitalism..

      But that's just it...it's isn't capitalism. It's crony capitalism. I'd also dare say you are forgetting one thing. The very business landscape you have boiled down to everything is bad led to Ting. Someone was tired of these things from big cable/big telecom and said i'm gonna do something different and they did. It isn't a recent development for larger to ingest smaller not just because of competition but to renew and seed the ranks of it's employees with innovators. Yes big companies want those people for those of you who don't believe it. It's the lifeblood of business. As a biz you are either expanding/innovating or you are contracting and decaying.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 12:13pm

        Re: Re: The perfect idea of capitalism..

        But there is another way..
        But ours sit and decay..
        There is only so far a company can go, before it has to STOP.
        Change and adaption, are fine, until it starts causing problems.

        The Competition thats been created, with Direct from China, is great.. but its as bad as going to a store and you can TRY IT first.
        But its Cheaper then buying in the USA.
        And USA corps dont want to change for the better.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Greg, 6 Aug 2020 @ 8:02am

    I understand the frustration the author of this article is clearly dealing with but it's misguided. The very thing you have an issue with...besides being obviously political...i disagree with. Not the substance but the cause. Crony capitalism has been around since the 60's and allows the telecom landscape to be the way it is. The very reason it's so difficult for new entrants to the telecom/cable segment is because of over regulation at the very beginnings of the sector. By tackling the onerous regulation for entrance into the telecom market we'd be getting more big players. Now innovators only have the opportunity to make small changes to a segment because they have to deal with big telecom as an mvno.

    I'm stopping there because i'm on a conference call and realized my thought is disjointed because I'm unable to give it my full attention. hopefully the gist of what i was saying came across. If not that'll be the last time i multitask and comment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe, 6 Aug 2020 @ 11:25am

    Anyone who thinks DISH is just planning on selling that spectrum has no idea what they're talking about. That company is Charlie Ergen's baby--he's not going to sell the only asset that provides a viable future for a quick short-term buck. He has never once even hinted that he wasn't serious about using the spectrum; the fact that people still don't believe him is mind-blowing. I worked there for over seven years, and believe me, selling that spectrum is not at all in line with how Charlie thinks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2020 @ 8:44pm

    You claim to be an independent media, but you aren't because you have a predetermined bias (anti-Trump) that influences your discourse. Sad, really, that you can't just be an outlet of helpful information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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