CA Judge Denies DISH Request for More Time Before CDMA Shutdown

A judge in California denied DISH Network’s request for more time to migrate customers using the CDMA network off of T-Mobile’s network. DISH filed the request last April and Administrative Law Judge Karl J. Bemesderfer of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently issued his “proposed decision.” 

He noted that unless the CPUC hears the item and votes to approve it, the proposed decision “has no legal effect.” At the earliest, the CPUC could take up the issue on March 17.

T-Mobile and DISH have been fighting for months over the issue of T-Mobile’s intended CDMA shutdown. T-Mobile said during its earnings call last week it still plans to shut down the CDMA network, which it inherited when it acquired Sprint, on March 31, Inside Towers reported.  

Bemesderfer wrote that when the state approved T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, a requirement was that, “the legacy Sprint and T-Mobile customer experience shall not be degraded during the customer migration period or the 5G build-out period.” T-Mobile had to maintain LTE broadband speeds and coverage areas in California “no less than” those reported to the FCC previously by T-Mobile and Sprint as of December 31, 2019.

The judge noted the FCC and DOJ conditioned their approval of the T-Mobile acquisition of Sprint. That included T-Mobile helping DISH become a fourth wireless carrier by giving DISH access to T-Mobile’s network while building its own wireless network. That Master Network Services Agreement required T-Mobile to give DISH “reasonable notice of not less than 6 months before shutting down the legacy Sprint wireless network (CDMA network) in any market,” wrote Bemesderfer.

T-Mobile originally planned to shutdown the CDMA network as of January 1 of this year. DISH called that “unreasonable,” and asked the CPUC to ensure T-Mobile operated the CDMA network until at least July 1, 2023.

DISH also appealed to the FCC and the DOJ. In response, T-Mobile said it would delay the CDMA network shutdown by three more months, to April 1, of this year. At the time, T-Mobile said that it gave DISH a total of 18 months’ notice, “three times the amount required by the Master Network Services Agreement between DISH and T-Mobile — to migrate Boost customers before the CDMA sunset.”

DISH then told the CPUC confidentially that would still leave “a significant number” of former Sprint Boost customers with phones that would no longer work.

This January, T-Mobile told the Commission additional progress had been made in migrating Boost customers and the migration that DISH had estimated would be achieved by April 1, 2022, had already occurred by the end of December, 2021.

Neither T-Mobile nor DISH can decide what is “reasonable notice,” Judge Bemesderfer wrote, adding that only the DOJ can say that because it structured the Boost divestiture. “In this circumstance, we find that it is appropriate to leave the determination of what constitutes reasonable notice of the proposed CDMA shutdown to the federal government,” he states, denying the DISH petition.

New Street Research analyst Blair Levin said in a recent investor report, “While the DOJ may jawbone in ways that incrementally delay the shutdown, its inaction to date – as well as the inaction of the FCC – suggests to us that the federal government is unlikely to give DISH the relief it seeks.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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