Was Phil finally right about something?

Posted in DISH, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum at 12:34 pm by timfarrar

No not his assertions that “I still believe that we had a great, and we still do have a great vision” and that “a bankruptcy would not necessarily wipe out the equity holders of LightSquared because the spectrum it owns retains value”, which look like they are moving even further away from being realized as time goes on.

LightSquared’s latest plan is to relinquish terrestrial rights in part of its L-band spectrum in exchange for the right to use additional government spectrum used by NOAA. However, I’m told that although NOAA may be prepared to allow terrestrial use of the 1675-80MHz spectrum band (subject to payment of relocation costs to move their radiosondes to the 401-406MHz band), LightSquared’s plan may now be derailed by the apparent intention of Congress to mandate an auction of “at least 15MHz” of spectrum in the 1675-1710MHz band, thereby requiring LightSquared to buy this additional spectrum at auction rather than being given (what they are portraying as) a “swap”.

After all, most Democrats appear to have concluded that “What happened to LightSquared is disappointing…But unfortunately that ship has sailed”. NOAA would presumably also like to maximize the auction proceeds to fund the relocation of its other systems in the 1695-1710MHz band which will also be auctioned as (lower value) uplink spectrum. As a first step, NOAA’s position may become clearer next week once the initial comments are filed in response to LightSquared’s petitions for rulemaking.

What I’m actually referring to in the title of this post is Phil’s comment on my blog post back in August 2011 that “Everyone knows Ergen is not going to build out a network. No one trusts him, including the FCC. They are not going to put their eggs in that basket because they know he will make them look foolish.”

That does appear to be a pretty good summary of the underlying rationale behind the FCC’s draft AWS-4 Order, circulated just before Thanksgiving, because the Order does not impose any anti-windfall conditions that would stop DISH from selling the spectrum to another operator, but instead attempts to mitigate this windfall (a concern the FCC is acutely sensitive to) by ensuring that the proceeds of an H-block auction can be maximized. If sold to existing operators, then the 50MHz of spectrum in AWS-4 and H-block combined would help to preserve the current four player wireless market in the US and would also mean that (as the FCC Chairman’s former advisor put it this week) “we’re not in the rush we originally thought” to address the purported spectrum crunch.

Despite this encouragement to cash in, DISH objected to the draft order, with Ergen appealing in person to each of the five Commissioners to make changes. However, the FCC fired back at DISH and has now scheduled the order for a public vote at the meeting on December 12, sending a signal of unanimity to DISH, and perhaps also discouraging any Commissioners who might be wavering from taking a position that would increase DISH’s potential windfall at the expense of H-block auction proceeds for the Treasury. Sprint has maintained its opposition to the latest changes proposed by DISH, and appears to have been successful in fending off any modification to the original draft (if Sprint was losing ground then I would have expected to see more vocal objections, as opposed to the current strategy of providing behind the scenes briefings and a rather non-specific ex parte filing).

Thus I’m left wondering whether DISH will now be persuaded that its best interests lie in selling out (especially given the diminishing number of available partners), or if instead DISH will continue to fight with the FCC (and challenge the legality of the Order as outlined in last week’s ex parte filing), potentially holding up the deployment of both AWS-4 and the H-block?

Could Sprint have designs on the AWS-4 spectrum as well (after all, Ergen is known for fighting vigorously right up to the time he does a deal with an opponent), or will it simply want to take advantage of disposals that AT&T would be forced to make after buying DISH’s spectrum? We should know more about Ergen’s intentions very soon, and Sprint’s proxy filing, now delayed until December 21, should make even more interesting reading than that of MetroPCS, because it will have to reveal if discussions have been going on with DISH behind the scenes over any potential deals.


  1. Rumor mill: Sprint, Dish cozying up for MVNO deal » India Telecom Tracker said,

    December 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    [...] For more: – see this Denver Business Journal article – see this Bloomberg article – see this TMF Associates blog entry [...]

  2. TMF Associates MSS blog » Phil filleted… said,

    September 23, 2013 at 9:34 am

    [...] that Chairman Mignon Clyburn would now choose DISH over Harbinger. That’s in contrast to my post last year asking if Phil was finally right about something with his comment that “Everyone knows Ergen [...]

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