Dish Network (Probably) Won Some Airwave Rights

The satellite TV company wants to offer cell-phone service.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 06: Hector Moreno installs a Dish Network satellite dish at a home on April 6, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Dish Network Corp, the second-largest U.S. satellite TV company, has purchased the assets of Blockbuster Inc in a bankruptcy auction for $320 million.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 27, 2014, 11:45 a.m.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion has ended an auc­tion for air­wave li­censes after bid­ding reached $1.564 bil­lion — which just hap­pens to be the min­im­um bid that Dish Net­work prom­ised to make.

The FCC will form­ally an­nounce the win­ner or win­ners of the auc­tion in the com­ing days. But it ap­pears that Dish, the largest com­pany to file for the auc­tion, was the big win­ner.

“It’s hard to ima­gine a scen­ario where Dish didn’t run away with al­most everything,” said Jef­frey Silva, a wire­less in­dustry ana­lyst with Med­ley Glob­al Ad­visors.

Jenna McMul­lin, a Dish spokes­wo­man, de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing anti-col­lu­sion rules that bar the com­pany from dis­cuss­ing the res­ults.

Dish is cur­rently a satel­lite TV pro­vider, but the com­pany has been ac­quir­ing air­waves for a na­tion­al cell-phone ser­vice for sev­er­al years. The com­pany could choose to build its own net­work, be­com­ing the fifth na­tion­al firm. But more likely, it will try to buy or part­ner with one of the ex­ist­ing car­ri­ers.

Wire­less traffic has ex­ploded in re­cent years as con­sumers stream videos, down­load apps, and browse the Web on their mo­bile devices. The skyrock­et­ing de­mand has led all cell-phone car­ri­ers to try to buy ac­cess to more spec­trum — the air­waves that carry wire­less sig­nals. Without ad­di­tion­al spec­trum, a com­pany’s net­work could be clogged with traffic, lead­ing to dropped calls and choppy videos.

The spec­trum that the FCC fin­ished auc­tion­ing Thursday is known as the “H-Block.” The pro­ceeds from the auc­tion will go to pay down the de­fi­cit and to­ward a planned high-speed wire­less net­work for first-re­spon­ders.

“With this suc­cess­ful auc­tion, the Com­mis­sion makes good on its com­mit­ment to un­leash more spec­trum for con­sumers and busi­nesses, de­liv­er­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant down pay­ment to­wards fund­ing the na­tion­wide in­ter­op­er­able pub­lic safety net­work,” FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er said in a state­ment.

The agency is pre­par­ing for a much lar­ger spec­trum auc­tion next year in which it plans to buy back li­censes held by TV broad­casters and sell them to the cel­lu­lar in­dustry.

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