Predictably, T-Mobile’s merger promises weren’t enough to make Dish a carrier

When T-Mobile acquired Sprint in April 2020, it reduced our top wireless carrier picks from four to three. Recognizing that this would indeed be a bad thing for U.S. wireless customers (aka all of us), T-Mobile agreed to a series of terms with the blessing of the FCC that would theoretically position Dish Network to fill the Sprint-shaped hole in us. wireless landscape to fill .

In other words, a wireless competitor could only reduce competition if it agreed to help set up another competitor in its place. Sounds a bit suspicious, right? Such a deal would certainly include a lot of terms, requirements and oversight to make sure it would actually work.

But looking back, these were the main demands placed on T-Mobile to keep Dish afloat as a competitor:

  • Sell ​​Sprint’s prepaid business, including Boost Mobile, to Dish within 120 days of the merger closing, preserving Boost’s competitiveness before divestment
  • Give Dish’s wireless customers access to the T-Mobile network for at least six years through a wholesale MVNO agreement while Dish builds its own network
  • Provide transition services for up to three years beyond to ensure Boost customers transition smoothly
  • Don’t do anything that is anti-competitive to Boost, such as throttling or restricting access to new network technologies
  • Sell ​​Sprint’s 800MHz spectrum to Dish three years after the merger closes
  • Give Dish the opportunity to acquire old Sprint cell sites and stores that T-Mobile decides to dismantle
  • Give Dish reasonable advance notice of network transition plans that may affect Boost customers

What is missing there is any definition of success. The burden for the plan’s success was on Dish, not T-Mobile’s, with Dish being legally required to provide 70 percent of the US population with 5G by 2023 (or now). possibly 2025).

Here we are about a year later and so far T-Mobile seems to have technically done everything it said it would do for Dish. But does the scheme work to support our fourth wireless carrier? It certainly doesn’t seem that way. The fact that Dish has now fled into the arms of AT&T shows how inadequate T-Mobile’s support has been: Instead of relying on the partner mandated by the $26 billion mega-merger, Dish now needs $5 billion. spend dollars on a competitor to get where he is. wants to go. While this isn’t definitive proof, it’s the final reminder that the deal was built on a shaky premise in the beginning, and regulators largely assumed big companies would keep their promises.

From the outset, critics of the merger deal suggested it depended too much on the good doings of T-Mobile and Dish, and was so vague that it left the door open for funny business that could seriously hamper the effort to keep Dish afloat. The new T-Mobile wasted little time breaking its promise to be “jobs positive” from day one, and it wasn’t long after the Boost sale before it started messing with Dish too. In October 2020, T-Mobile told Dish it would shut down Sprint’s old CDMA network — which many of Dish’s Boost customers rely on — on January 1, 2022.

T-Mobile says it went beyond its obligations set out in the merger agreement, and that may be technically true: Regulators only needed six months’ notice, and the company gave 14. T-Mobile’s filings with the FCC covered on the merger did not specify exactly when it expected to shut down the CDMA network, only that it would not do so before January 1, 2021. But T-Mobile also publicly promised it would “ensure continuous and seamless operation of Boost Mobile […] after the transition to Dish ownership, and yet the CDMA shutdown is on an even more aggressive timeline than rivals AT&T and Verizon.

Making it clear to customers that they need to buy a new device and get enough phones for them takes time. AT&T began notifying its customers of the 3G shutdown in February 2022 in July last year, and as Dish has repeatedly pointed out, Verizon has delayed closing its CDMA network by several years to give itself enough time to allow customers. that still use 3G phones. In a recent letter to the FCC, Dish also pointed to other statements T-Mobile made that led it to believe it would have a three-year window to migrate customers from the old network. T-Mobile’s response to the partner it was supposed to support? It more or less says that Dish didn’t pay enough attention.

Notifying Dish a little over a year in advance of a major service upheaval for many of its new customers is, to use the technical term, bullshit. (We’re not even counting the global health crisis and chip shortage, which may have made this task more difficult.) And while T-Mobile may be right in claiming to have followed the rules, it certainly qualifies as funny business.

It was clear that the deal didn’t demand enough of T-Mobile, relying too much on then-CEO John Legere and Charlie Ergen of Dish, who seemed pretty cool dudes according to the judge, Victor Marrero. Placing the responsibility on Dish to pay if it missed the 2025 deadline predictably did nothing to encourage T-Mobile to play nice and help Dish. Unless Dish can pull off something incredible, it looks like we’ll be living without that fourth major wireless provider for a long time to come.