Dish urges California regulators to probe T-Mobile

(Image: Detusche Telekom/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Dish Network has sent a letter to California’s utility regulator urging the agency to scrutinize conditions of T-Mobile’s merger with former wireless rival Sprint.

The letter says T-Mobile’s recent decision to depreciate some older technology used by Sprint customers is inconsistent with pre-merger conditions that were agreed upon before the phone companies were allowed to join forces.

Specifically, Dish Network is upset over T-Mobile’s announcement that it would shut off Sprint’s older CDMA wireless network in favor of T-Mobile’s own 4G LTE and 5G networks. Those next-generation networks offer certain perks, including faster wireless data connections and high-fidelity voice calls over LTE (known as VoLTE), that Sprint’s older CDMA network can’t perform.

T-Mobile intends to use some of Sprint’s CDMA broadcast licenses for its own 5G wireless network, which is already one of the more-robust networks in the United States. That’s a problem for Dish Network: After regulators demanded T-Mobile sell Sprint’s prepaid wireless service Boost Mobile, Dish Network scooped it up, but the service relies on Sprint’s older CDMA network in order to operate.

In a previous letter sent to federal regulators, Dish Network accused T-Mobile of breaking a pre-merger covenant that said the wireless phone company would continue to support Boost Mobile’s customers as Dish Network works on building out its own next-generation 5G wireless network. That build-out is expected to take several years to complete.

In a new letter sent to the California Public Utilities Commission this week, Dish Network said that the transition has the potential to disrupt millions of Boost Mobile customers in California, some of whom are difficult to reach because Boost Mobile doesn’t require customers to sign up with a physical address in order to receive its prepaid wireless phone service.

T-Mobile has responded with its own statements saying it promised to support Boost Mobile customers for a few years after the merger, but that support didn’t necessarily extend to supporting Sprint’s older CDMA network.

If T-Mobile prevails in its argument before federal regulators — and now before California utility regulators — it could be a problem for Dish Network: Devices that are specific to Sprint’s network don’t always work on competing networks due to different radio frequencies and other standards that are employed.

T-Mobile also says Dish Network was given advanced notice of its plans for the CDMA network, well beyond what was required in its contract, and that the burden rests with Dish Network to move customers over from Sprint’s older CDMA network to whatever next-generation network the satellite company winds up building.

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