When T-Mobile acquired Sprint in April 2020, it raised the choices of our wireless operators from four to three. T-Mobile acknowledged that this would be a really bad thing for U.S. wireless customers (aka all of us), and T-Mobile agreed to an FCC blessing on a set of terms that would theoretically set Dish Network to fill a Sprint-shaped gap in our wireless landscape.
In other words, one wireless competitor was only allowed to reduce competition if it agreed to help set up another competitor. Sounds a little suspicious, right? Such a deal would certainly involve a lot of conditions, requirements and controls to ensure that it actually works.
But looking back, these were the main requirements for T-Mobile to support Dish as a competitor:
- Sell Sprint’s prepaid business, including Boost Mobile, to Dish within 120 days of the completion of the merger and maintain Boost’s competitiveness prior to the sale
- Provide Dish’s wireless customers with access to the T-Mobile network for at least six years through the MVNO wholesale level as Dish builds its own network
- Provide transition services for up to three years after that, so that Boost customers can transition smoothly
- Do nothing against Boost, such as strangulation or restricting the use of new online technologies
- It will sell Sprint’s 800 MHz frequency to Dish three years after the end of the merger
- Give Dish the opportunity to buy old Sprint cell sites and retail stores that T-Mobile decides to disable
- Provide Dish with reasonable advance notice of network migration plans that may affect Boost customers
There is no definition of success. The burden of the plan’s success fell on Dish, not T-Mobile, when Dish was legally required to cover 70 percent of the U.S. population with 5G by 2023 (or now possibly 2025).
Here we are about a year later, and so far T-Mobile seems to be doing technically everything it said it is doing for Dish now. But does the system work to support our fourth wireless operator? It really doesn’t look like that. The fact that the plate is now fled into AT & T’s arms shows how T-Mobile’s support has been inadequate: Dish must now rely on a partner authorized by the $ 26 billion merger instead of spend $ 5 billion on its competitor get where it wants to go. While it’s not conclusive proof, it’s the latest reminder of that trade was built on an unstable starting point, and was considered by regulators for the most part in faith that big companies keep their promises.
From the beginning critics of the merger agreement suggested that it depended too much on T-Mobile and Dish doing the right thing, and was so vague that it left the door open for fun business that could seriously hamper Dish’s support. The new T-Mobile wasted some time breaches its promise to be “positive for jobs from day one” and it didn’t take long after the Boost sale to confuse it with Dish. In October 2020, T-Mobile told Dish that it would shut down Sprint’s old CDMA network – which many of Dish’s Boost customers trust – on January 1, 2022.
T-Mobile says it has exceeded its obligations under the merger agreement, and that may be technically true: regulators only require a six-month notice period and the company announced 14. FCC applications for T-Mobile’s merger do not state exactly when it was waiting for the CDMA network to close, it would not do so before January 1, 2021. But T-Mobile promised publicly as wellensures continuous and seamless operation of Boost Mobile […] after the transfer to Dish ’, and the closure of CDMA is, however, an even more aggressive timeline than competitors AT&T and Verizon.
Informing customers that they need to buy a new device and getting a sufficient phone takes time. AT&T began to inform its customers the February 2022 3G shutdown in July last year, and as Dish has repeatedly pointed out, Verizon has delayed the shutdown of the CDMA network several years to give themselves enough time to transfer customers who are still using 3G phones. In a recent letter to the FCC, Dish also referred to other statements made by T-Mobile that led it to believe that it would have three years to move customers away from the old network. T-Mobile’s response to a partner it was supposed to support? It says more or less The dish did not pay enough attention.
Giving Dish just over a year of notice of a major service disruption to many of its new customers is, in technical terms, a bull. (We don’t even count on the global health crisis and chip shortages that may have made this task more difficult.) And while T-Mobile may be right in claiming to follow the rules, it’s certainly a fun move.
Of course, the deal did not demand enough from T-Mobile, and relied too heavily on then-CEO John Legere and Dishin Charlie Ergen, who looked pretty cool guys to Judge Victor Marrero. Paying Dish, if it exceeded the 2025 deadline, predictably did nothing to encourage T-Mobile to play comfortably and help Dish. Unless Dish is able to pull something incredible, it looks like we’ll live without that four big wireless operators for a long time to come.