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FCC regulator: Don’t dish out discounts to Dish

Molly Wood Feb 2, 2015
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A regulator with the Federal Communications Commission is crying foul over Dish Network Corp.’s pursuit of small business discounts in a wireless spectrum auction last week.

Dish pulled in more than $13 billion worth of wireless licenses in the auction. But it might not end up paying that much. Dish is seeking to tap discounts the FCC sets aside for small businesses. It secured bids through a couple small companies it’s invested in. Those partner firms qualify for the discounts. 

“It is an outrage that a Fortune 500 corporation, using some shell corporations that are very creatively structured, can try to claim over $3 billion worth bidding credits that are meant for small businesses,” says FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

Pai is calling for an FCC investigation into the matter. In a statement, Dish Network said it is confident that it complied with auction rules, and cited the fact that the commission unanimously approved the sale. 

The company is not a wireless service provider—it’s in the business of satellite TV and internet. And yet, over the past few years, Dish has amassed a surprising amount of wireless spectrum. 

Blair Levin, a former FCC chief of staff, says it’s unclear if Dish will partner with another wireless company or start an independent wireless serviceor something else altogether.

But Levin says the final result might be worth the $3 billion in discounts Dish is seeking.

“If they provide ways so that Americans can have faster, better, cheaper mobile services, I think we’ll look back and say it was a bargain,” Levin says.

Still, the FCC’s Commissioner Pai says the rules of the bidding process must be followed, and he want to make sure Dish hasn’t flouted the rules.

“The mandate we got was to give small businesses a chance to break into the wireless marketplace,” he says. “It wasn’t to give large corporations with sophisticated lawyers an opportunity to game the system in order to get the taxpayer-funded discount on bidding at spectrum auctions.”

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