T-Mobile Opposes DISH 800 MHz License Extension, New Party Also Interested

UPDATE As New Street Research (NSR) predicted, T-Mobile opposes giving DISH more time to buy its low-band 800 MHz spectrum. NSR Policy Advisor Blair Levin noted last week that on a conference call with Department of Justice officials, T-Mobile representatives objected to the extra time.

That position is also playing out in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Inside Towers reported that DISH asked both the court and the DOJ for a 10-month extension (from August 31) to exercise its option to buy the spectrum, citing it needs more time to raise the funds.  

T-Mobile characterized DISH’s argument for more time this way to the court: “DISH’s Motion boils down to this: Interest rates are about 5% higher now than they were three years ago, meaning that the cost of financing a $3.6 billion purchase would be about $180 million more per year than in 2020. This higher interest, according to DISH, prevents it from ‘responsibly’ financing the acquisition of the 800 MHz spectrum licenses at issue right now, but DISH speculates that the situation may get better in ten months.”

T-Mobile points out that the license purchase agreement in the “Final Judgement” allowing the carrier to acquire Sprint requires DISH to buy the 800 MHz spectrum licenses within five business days of FCC approval. If that doesn’t happen, T-Mobile is required to proceed to auction them, it tells the court. T-Mobile stresses that DISH does not need “relief” from the “Final Judgement” and its modification “is not warranted,” “unfair to T-Mobile,” and “contrary to the public interest.”

At least one other party, engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, is interested in the spectrum. It tells the court it’s lining up financing and potential utility industry suppliers and operators building wireless networks. It describes itself as a “credible purchaser” of the 800 MHz licenses.

Burns & McDonnell tells the court that if successful, it’s committed “to leveraging the nationwide spectrum for targeted community benefit, enabling critical infrastructure operators like electric utilities to deploy wireless broadband networks. Not only will this bolster the reliability, resiliency, and security of our nation’s critical infrastructure, but these infrastructure operators are in an excellent position to aid in closing the digital divide with 5G and Open Radio Access technologies because of their commitments to serving all their customers with essential goods and services.”

Agreeing with T-Mobile, Burns & McDonnell too, tells the court another delay would let the spectrum “remain fallow.” The firm says, “DISH offers no persuasive reason to believe that it is ever likely to purchase the spectrum, even with its requested 10-month extension. Because it is at best uncertain whether macroeconomic trends will dramatically improve in less than a year, DISH presents no realistic plan by which it will attain the needed capital.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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