from the dysfunction-junction dept
A few years ago the Trump DOJ and FCC rubber-stamped the Sprint T-Mobile merger without heeding expert warnings that it would stifle competition, 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 these problems: 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) and Wall Street want less price competition and would be incentivized at every step to ensure it fails. And three, because an incompetent and feckless FCC (displaying various degrees of said incompetence and fecklessness under both parties) 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, wireless prices have slowly been creeping skyward, and the Dish network plan has seen repeated delays thanks in part to squabbling between T-Mobile and Dish.
Dish finally launched its “Genesis” 5G network in Las Vegas. And by “Las Vegas,” they mean select, poorly-defined, limited portions of Las Vegas. With only one phone and one plan available. And even then, The Verge reviewers, who recently tried to give the network a spin, had a hell of a time even signing up:
The problems started pretty much as soon as I hit launch.genesis5g.com. Clicking on the “order now” button, I was prompted to enter my email and home address. But once I did, the site told me I didn’t have a valid address — not that the service wasn’t available at my house but that the address I had entered (correctly, I checked, several times) wasn’t right.
It didn’t appear to be limited to just my building; my colleagues and I tried entering addresses in several supposedly supported cities, but the site would tell us they were invalid. To be clear, this wasn’t a situation where we were incorrectly formatting the addresses. (Project Genesis’ website suggests addresses to you and lets you autofill the form using them.) It was saying that the addresses it had provided weren’t acceptable.
The experience gets worse from there, with virtually no hardware or plan options, a bunch of restrictions (you can’t bring your own phone), and failures at checkout and password creation. Now the network is most assuredly in its early stages, but that’s a lot of warning signs.
As per the T-Mobile merger approval agreement, Dish had to deliver service to 20 percent of the country as of June 14. A Dish press release claims the company has already exceeded this threshold by launching the service in 120 cities. It’s possible, but nobody seems to have been able to independently confirm this. The hard part comes next: Dish has to cover 70% of the population by next year and 75% by 2025.
There are several problems. Again, Dish hasn’t shown the competency to pull this off. At any point. The FCC (be it under Trump or Biden) hasn’t shown it’s competent enough to hold Dish’s feet to the fire. At any point. Dish also continues to bleed money from its sagging satellite TV and existing wireless business (which was supposed to cushion the huge costs of building out this giant 5G network).
Again, the entire point of this network was to provide a massive competitive counterbalance to the competition lost by the T-Mobile Sprint merger. But AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile aren’t going to be threatened by a network with one device, one plan, that people generally can’t sign up for, run by a company with no experience who apparently can’t build a basic sign up website. All overseen by regulators that generally aren’t interested in standing up to big telecom providers.
There’s just a lot of wishful thinking involved in this project everywhere you look.
Based on 22 years watching US telecom repeat similar cycles, I suspect this project goes something like this: Dish strings regulators along for a few years with a few minor wrist slaps for missing some of next year’s bigger deadlines. But ultimately the project falls flat on its face due to incompetence, consumer disinterest, and AT&T/Verizon/T-Mobile covert political meddling.
Dish CEO Charlie Ergen ultimately retires after making billions of dollars offloading what network does exist, with any regulatory fines made completely irrelevant by the huge sums of money he’ll make selling off valuable spectrum to one of the three remaining incumbents. Lots of layoffs, lots of bloodshed, with the winners (as usual) being Wall Street, the biggest telecom players, and a handful of executives.
All of it blamed entirely on something other (inflation, supply chain issues) than the original culprit (greed, regulatory capture).
The Trump era folks who built this deal were looking for any flimsy justification they could find to approve greater U.S. telecom consolidation, which generally only benefits investors and executives. When the impact of this consolidation becomes clear in the form of more layoffs and price hikes, every last one of them will pretend none of it ever happened and that they played no active role in any of it.
Filed Under: 5g, competition, consolidation, mergers, smartphones, wireless