As Dish Network works to delay T-Mobile US’ plans to sunset the former Sprint CDMA network on which many of Dish’s Boost Mobile customers still rely, the Rural Wireless Association has joined with seven other groups in sending a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to weigh in and delay the network shutdown because of impacts to rural wireless customers, exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Rural customers are dependent on the Sprint CDMA network when traveling outside of their home network,” RWA said. “T-Mobile has begun shutting down portions of the Sprint CDMA network which means rural customers cannot use their devices when away from home. This is especially problematic during the pandemic when it is more difficult for rural providers to upgrade their networks to stay in lockstep with T-Mobile.”
The group of organizations, calling themselves the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC), says that the issues at hand go beyond arguments over specific Sprint/T-Mo merger conditions and that the FCC should act under its authority to prevent disruption and loss of service. “The impact of T-Mobile’s scheduled shut down has already had disruptive impacts outside the T-Mo/DISH/Boost networks,” the letter said. “Rural Wireless Association members report that T-Mobile’s ongoing shut down of portions of the CDMA network that is now in process has
already prevented the ability of rural customers to roam when they leave their home networks. Because they are unable to connect to a network, these roaming customers cannot make 911 calls, other emergency related calls or participate in the Wireless Emergency Alert system – a clear public safety issue.”
The FCC should “require both licensees to work together to establish a reasonable transition schedule that allows T-Mobile efficiently to re-farm valuable spectrum for 5G services while simultaneously protecting subscribers and promoting competition,” the letter says, adding that “This current flashpoint is likely only the first dispute to come
before the Commission as a consequence of the ongoing efforts by carriers to sunset their 2G and 3G networks.”
As part of a settlement with the Department of Justice that ultimately allowed the T-Mo/Spring merger to go forward, Dish Network acquired about 9.4 million existing Boost customers at the time, plus hundreds of Boost employees and about 7,500 retail storefronts. In the merger ruling, it was noted that Boost customers would use the T-Mobile network “rather than the decidedly poorer-quality Sprint network,” which was considered a major factor in driving Boost’s churn and seen by the judge as evidence that Boost’s viability would be strengthened under Dish ownership.
The combined T-Mobile US/Sprint was required to provide Dish with access to its network for seven years at wholesale rates “significantly lower than those provided under typical MVNO agreements,” according to the ruling. As part of the DoJ deal, a monitor was also set up to make sure that the New T-Mobile didn’t mess with Dish’s ability to use its network, primarily in terms of wholesale prices for Dish. The DoJ settlement also included the caveat that T-Mo cannot cap the extent to which Dish uses its network over the first three years.
But now Dish is fighting with T-Mobile US over the decommissioning of the old Sprint CDMA network, planned for January 1, 2022 — which Dish says is unexpectedly soon for Dish to scramble to transition the millions of customers customers who still use that network. T-Mobile US, meanwhile, says that it is Dish’s responsibility to work out the transition of its customers, and that T-Mo has to decommission the CDMA network in order to meet its merger commitments for 5G network buildouts.
Axios reported today that Dish founder and Chairman Charlier Ergen has penned a letter sent to more than a dozen U.S. senators, saying that T-Mobile US’ decision to shut down the CDMA network raises issues that are “worthy of your review.” Ergen also reportedly says in his letter that Dish’s efforts to migrate customers are being slowed due to the global semiconductor shortage and LG’s exit from the mobile phone market, because LG was Boost’s largest device provider.