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Dish/T-Mobile feud raising 'grave concerns'

'This is a manufactured crisis, orchestrated by Dish, and it is about money, not customers,' according to T-Mobile's CEO. But Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said that T-Mobile is just being a 'sore winner.'

Mike Dano

August 9, 2021

4 Min Read
Dish/T-Mobile feud raising 'grave concerns'

The squabble between Dish Network and T-Mobile entered a new phase this week, with each side hoping to craft an argument that would gain traction with federal regulators.

Dish escalated the battle by releasing a July letter from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) putting T-Mobile in the spotlight. In the letter, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Powers wrote that the DoJ's antitrust division "is left with grave concerns about the potential for a nationwide CDMA shutdown to leave a substantial proportion of Boost's customers without service."

That's likely what Dish had been hoping for when it raised the issue with the agency. T-Mobile plans to turn off the Sprint 3G CDMA network at the beginning of next year, potentially affecting an unspecified portion of Dish's Boost Mobile customers who are using the network. Dish has argued that T-Mobile's network shutdown plan violates its 2019 agreement with the DoJ.

In his July letter to the two companies, the DoJ's acting assistant attorney general wrote that T-Mobile must provide "reasonable advance notice of at least six months prior to the shutdown of the legacy network."

"The [antitrust] division cannot yet determine whether the notice provided will have been reasonable for a January 1, 2022 CDMA shutdown in light of all relevant facts and circumstances since they have not all transpired. However, if Dish undertakes all reasonable efforts to transition its customers off the CDMA network and a substantial portion are still remaining at the end of the period, that fact may very well suggest that notice had not been sufficient," Powers wrote.

According to Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen, that's exactly what Dish is doing. "Obviously we're going to continue to take all reasonable steps to mitigate the expected harm from the CDMA shutdown," he said Monday during Dish's quarterly earnings call. "But we're not able to do everything, and we do think it's an issue, and obviously the regulators are paying attention."

Continued Ergen: "Our projection shows a material amount of customers on January 2 will still have CDMA phones and will lose their service." He did not provide any specifics.

T-Mobile fights back

But that's all a bunch of baloney, according to T-Mobile's CEO. In a lengthy post to the company's website released shortly after Dish's earnings call, T-Mobile's Mike Sievert said Dish isn't holding up its end of the agreement with the DoJ.

"Our friends at Dish have been dragging their feet in getting their customers upgraded to the superior 4G/5G world," Sievert wrote. "As we prepare to sunset the legacy Sprint CDMA network next year and move customers onto a network that will provide dramatically better connectivity and 911 services (and a variety of other customer benefits), Dish has not done nearly enough to upgrade its Boost CDMA customers."

He continued: "This is a manufactured crisis, orchestrated by Dish, and it is about money, not customers. If Dish was really concerned for customers, they would simply take real action and get their customers new phones on time, before the network upgrade happens, just as T-Mobile is doing for affected Sprint customers. It's that simple."

T-Mobile, for its part, recently announced a promotion coupling a free phone with inexpensive unlimited service, an offering Dish officials described as anticompetitive.

According to Sievert, the real issue at play is whether T-Mobile can help the US cross the digital divide. He said the company plans to use the resources it will free up from the shutdown of the CDMA network to improve a 5G network that will bring Internet services to customers in rural areas.

"Relegating customers to outdated technology is like treating them as second-class citizens – and that is not who T-Mobile is," Sievert wrote. "No one should be left on outdated technology in the 5G era."

But according to Dish's Ergen, T-Mobile is a "sore winner." He explained that T-Mobile is reaping billions of dollars in synergies from its merger with Sprint, but still isn't satisfied and is now trying to acquire Boost customers. "It's hard to be a good winner sometimes," Ergen said.

Light Reading Senior Editor Jeff Baumgartner contributed to this article.

Related posts:

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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