FCC Delays Decision on DISH LTE Network Waiver

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The Federal Communications Commission has confirmed that it will delay any decision on whether to grant a waiver to DISH Network that will allow it to build an LTE broadband wireless network using mobile satellite spectrum.

DISH acquired approximately 40 GHz of spectrum in the 2GHz band when it bought out of bankruptcy satellite smartphone hopeful TerreStar and hybrid satellite and terrestrial network provider DBSD North America.

"The rulemaking process will best serve the public interest and maximise the long-term value of the spectrum for the American economy,”FCC spokesman Neil Grace told Bloomberg, parent company of Bloomberg BNA. A discussion of DISH's proposed plan for the 2GHz band has been scheduled for the FCC's next open meeting on March 12.

While the FCC has now given its approval for the acquisitions, the decision to hold off on the waiver leaves DISH in a position that Chairman Charlie Ergen indicated could change its plans for the spectrum. Speaking to industry analysts last month, Ergen stated that, if the waivers could be obtained in a timely manner, he saw the company's chances of success as "about 80 percent," which is the risk level DISH looks for when considering a business plan. He did not state that a delay would force the company to abandon its plans, but he continued, “If, by chance, we were not granted a waiver or it was kicked down the road without a decision to rulemaking, then I think that we'll have to … de-risk. And we have to look at other alternatives on what to do with the business and the spectrum, which would be unfortunate.”

DISH says that it remains willing to work with the FCC to resolve any concerns that would result in the waiver request being denied.

"Although we are disappointed that the FCC did not grant the integrated service and spare satellite waivers that DISH requested, we appreciate the cooperative spirit and diligent efforts of the Commission and its staff in reviewing our applications,” the company said in a written statement. “We worked hard to demonstrate that the grant of those waivers was in the public interest, and we wish that we had been successful. We believe that the denial of those waivers will delay the advancement of some of President Obama's and the FCC's highest priorities -- namely freeing up new spectrum for commercial use and introducing new mobile broadband competition. As we review our options, we will continue working with the FCC on the forthcoming 2 GHz Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to achieve those goals as expeditiously as possible. DISH is committed to helping the Administration and the FCC solve the existing spectrum crunch, and DISH believes that new competition is particularly critical given the expanding world of bit caps and restrictive data plans. We expect to close the DBSD and TerreStar transactions as soon as practicable."

By Tim McElgunn