Dish Network sent a new letter to the Federal Communications Commission this week, as reported by Axios, highlighting the urgent situation as T-Mobile proceeds with the planned shutdown of the CDMA network in January 2022. “We believe that T-Mobile’s actions give rise to significant competition and public interest concerns” , the letter said. It would be a blow to Dish’s company, but most importantly, millions of Boost Mobile customers would feel its impact.
Boost Mobile, a former Sprint MVNO sold to Dish as part of the T-Mobile acquisition, serves 9 million customers. According to the letter, more than half of them rely on CDMA service. The prepaid service is an accessible alternative to contract plans for low-income customers; no credit check is required, or even a credit card. Customers can pay for phones and service at retailers such as Walmart and replenish them as needed.
It makes for an attractive service when the costs and contracts of large carrier subscriptions are prohibitive, but it is also what makes migrating these customers to a newer network a unique challenge. Boost customers may not even have an email registered with the company, and those who are still using slower 3G CDMA devices probably don’t because they prefer it, but because they can’t buy a new phone to afford. In less than a year, they will be forced to choose between making that purchase or losing their current cellular service altogether.
Lower disproportionate consequences of the pandemic and associated economic implications, it may not be a good time for these customers to start looking for a new phone. Dish also points out that the global shortage of chips is making it a particularly bad time to try to secure a large number of new devices for customers. Overall, the company’s letter to the FCC makes it quite clear how dire the situation is in its view: “A forced migration of this magnitude under this accelerated time frame is simply not possible and will potentially make millions of Boost subscribers disenfranchised and without cell phones. service coming January 1, 2022. “
As part of the Sprint merger, T-Mobile agreed to help establish Dish as the US’s fourth wireless provider, and the sale of the prepaid Boost business to Dish was one step in that plan. However, in late 2020, T-Mobile Dish announced that it would shut down the CDMA network that many Boost customers use in early 2022, several years earlier than Dish expected. It’s a move the company is quick to call anti-competitive, both previous communications and in this latest letter to the FCC.
T-Mobile doesn’t see things the same way. In doing so, it does not technically violate the agreement, and in the company’s opinion, it has informed Dish amply. Here’s what it had to say in a statement on the matter:
Everything we do here is exactly in line with the agreement DISH made with us a year and a half ago, and we have been very proactive and transparent about the timing of this transition with all of our MVNOs, including DISH. We notified DISH in October 2020 for a January 1, 2022 transition – far beyond the required six-month contractual agreement. Our agreement with DISH is also clear that they are responsible for migrating Boost customers, just as we are responsible for migrating Sprint customers, and we believe DISH is already making plans to take good care of their affected customers before the transition date. Given the advance notice they have received, only a small percentage of Boost customers should upgrade their phones by the end of this year, and typically those customers would be supported with incentives and promotions to upgrade their phones.
In fact, the company is taking some sort of victory lap on the anniversary of the acquisition with a new post on its blog, honoring the 5G network it has been able to build with Sprint’s past spectrum. Based on the tone of this latest letter to the FCC, it’s a party mood that Dish certainly doesn’t share.