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Dish CEO Puts T-Mobile on His Wish List

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
12/12/2011
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Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH)'s CEO is apparently hoping for a deal with T-Mobile US Inc. should the mobile carrier's proposed merger with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) fall apart. (See DoJ, AT&T Put T-Mobile Antitrust Case on Hold.)

Dish CEO Joseph Clayton told Bloomberg that he'd be eager to partner with T-Mobile to apply Dish's spectrum in a way that would create more mobile competition to AT&T and cable's new pal, Verizon Wireless . Clayton's comments come as Dish looks for help funding the buildout of a wireless network that may use a swath of valuable spectrum that Dish is obtaining via its purchase of two financially stressed companies, DBSD North America Inc. and Terrestar Networks Inc. (See Charlie Ergen's Spectrum Grab and Dish Sizing Up Mobile Broadband Service .)

But Clayton told Bloomberg that the company would also be interested in buying assets from AT&T and T-Mobile if the deal was allowed to happen with concessions that would force such a sale. But, it's not interested in selling its spectrum, like the SpectrumCo LLC MSOs are attempting to do with Verizon Wireless. (See MSO Deal Not Verizon's Spectrum 'End Game' and MSOs Sell AWS Spectrum to Verizon for $3.6B .)

"We're not interested in making money on selling our spectrum," he told Bloomberg. "We want to use it to create a national wireless network, video, voice and data. We've got expertise in satellite TV, and we will in satellite broadband. The voice part, we'll need some help with."

Analysts see Dish as a viable alternative for T-Mobile now that any sort of deal with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) or Bright House Networks is seemingly off the table. (See Is Cable T-Mobile's Fallback Plan? )

"Yes, I think Dish would be an obvious alternative for AT&T if it is unable to [buy] T-Mobile both because of the wireless spectrum that Dish is in the process of acquiring and because of the pay-TV services it could offer outside of U-verse markets," BTIG Research analyst Walter Piecyk said via email.

But is this something that would work for T-Mobile, even if the AT&T deal crumbles? Or is it just wishful thinking on Dish's part?

"It's reasonable that Dish will want to talk to all possible partners," as it looks for help building out its wireless facilities, says Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. Craig Moffett. "But it's not entirely clear who that would be."

Dish, he says, is interested in building a fixed wireless option that can compete with cable, "but it's not clear if it's economically viable or even interesting for T-Mobile."

But the options are limited. Verizon Wireless and AT&T, he points out, are the only two cash-rich wireless players out there, and "one of them just left the building with cable on his arm."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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