Light Reading

Dish Spectrum Gets Clearance for Takeoff

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) got what it wanted Tuesday: The OK from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use some spectrum for terrestrial mobile broadband without also having to support satellite links. But the service provider was non-committal about what it will now do about that.

Dish, claiming it wanted to build out a wireless network, originally sought a waiver to lift the satellite requirement on its Advanced Wireless Services (AWS)-4 spectrum. The FCC declined and went into a formal rulemaking process, causing Dish to vent about maybe selling the spectrum or partnering with a mobile carrier.

The FCC was slated to vote on the matter Wednesday afternoon but announced Tuesday that the item had passed unanimously. The FCC, in another 5-0 vote, also agreed to set the stage for a 2013 auction of the 10MHz H block.

The FCC has yet to release the full order, but the rules reportedly will require Dish to sacrifice some of its 40MHz of spectrum as a guard band for the adjacent H block, which Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) has been eyeing for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. Dish originally claimed that the concession could "cripple" its wireless ambitions but later told the FCC that it would be willing to relinquish 5MHz (the range of 2000MHz to 2005MHz) so long as the FCC adopted "safeguards" that would let Dish use the remaining 15MHz of its uplink spectrum as soon as possible.

So what's Dish gonna do now?

Not much. Dish will study the review and think about "strategic options," Senior VP and Deputy General Counsel Jeff Blum said in a statement.

Sprint VP of Government Affairs Larry Krevor called the FCC rules for the AWS-4 spectrum "balanced and equitable," and that the company is 'especially encouraged'" about the coming H block auction.

Why this matters
The rules free Dish to use its spectrum without the satellite restrictions, but the company doesn't seem likely to pursue a costly network build on its own. A sale or partnership looks more probable.

Dish and Sprint have been fighting over the FCC spectrum proceedings, but a Bloomberg report this week said that the companies have been discussing a deal in which Sprint would get Dish's spectrum and, in exchange, allow Dish to offer mobile services on the Sprint network. Discussions of a possible Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)-Dish partnership have also provided grist for the rumor mill. (See Sprint & Dish Slug It Out Over Spectrum.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/10/2013 | 4:00:12 AM
re: Dish Spectrum Gets Clearance for Takeoff

Expect a few more details to emerge today when FCC Chairman Genachowski and four other Commissioners testify on "the new broadband spectrum law and the current status of spectrum auctions."

You can catch the C-SPAN stream here.   JB

Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/10/2013 | 4:00:12 AM
re: Dish Spectrum Gets Clearance for Takeoff

We're still waiting to see the full order and how much spectrum Dish will have to give up to avoid interference with the H block, but this seems like just the next step toward a sale or partnership for Ergen & Co. 

What chances do you give Dish of being successful with a Sprint partnership?  I think it would serve Dish to do an MVNO deal that lets it brand and package its own service.  The idea of building its own network just seemed like a non-starter. Too expensive and risky.  At least it's already trademarked a possible brand for the service, though "Ollo" doesn't exactly produce a lot of excitement. JB

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