The announcement provided a slight upward jolt to the satellite company’s stock this morning. Dish says that it will sell $1B in senior notes — details will come later in an SEC filing. But the press release pointedly says that the cash may be used for “wireless and spectrum-related strategic transactions” in addition to the boilerplate “general corporate purposes.” Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has been amassing spectrum rights to launch his own wireless broadband network. He has said that he’d like to team up with a someone already in the business, and made a bid for Clearwire — although the smart money is betting that the wireless venture will end up with Sprint. If that happens, Ergen has said that “we think we have other options” to build a service.
UPDATE, 12:40 PM: NAB chief Gordon Smith warns that the FCC may be disappointed by the number of TV stations that will volunteer to give up their spectrum. “If there’s a stampede coming, we don’t hear any hooves,” he says. And the FCC probably won’t be interested in the rural stations that are most likely to be interested in a payout from an auction. The need for spectrum for wireless broadband “is an urban concern, not a rural concern. Oregon, where I’m from, will never run out of spectrum.” The NAB will cooperate with the FCC as it enters what Smith says is “uncharted territory.” But the trade group will try to ensure that stations aren’t coerced to participate in the auction. “That remains the focus of our concern.” Since the FCC action follows congressional legislation, the process likely will proceed no mater who wins the presidential election in November.
PREVIOUS, 11:30 AM: The plan has been a long time coming, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says it’s “a big deal” — although it could result in a bruising fight with broadcasters. The commission today unanimously endorsed a notice of proposed rulemaking that would enable broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of the airwave spectrum that they currently use, and share in the
Comcast has been beefing up its armada of legal and lobbying pros for just this kind of situation. Senate lawmakers are about to shine a spotlight on the peace treaty Comcast and other cable operators made in December with one of their toughest competitors: Verizon. The cable companies agreed to sell wireless spectrum they control to the phone giant for $3.6B. Signers also agreed to cross-promote each other products in areas where they don’t already fight head-to-head. The deal is under review at the Justice Department and FCC. But there could be a lot more public scrutiny of the terms after Wednesday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights holds a hearing titled “The Verizon/Cable Deals: Harmless Collaboration or a Threat to Competition and Consumers?” Verizon and Comcast are sending EVPs to testify. The panel also will include likely critics of the deal from the Rural Cellular Association and activist group Free Press, as well as telecom law scholar Timothy Wu, who wrote The Master Switch — an influential examination of how businesses and government deal with technological change. Comcast and Verizon shouldn’t expect a love fest. The meeting will be chaired by Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl, who late last year asked the FTC to investigate whether Google has too much power over the Internet search business.
Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen told analysts last month that he might scrap his efforts to buy TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America — which control coveted spectrum licenses — if the FCC didn’t grant a waiver relaxing its build-out requirements. But he just closed the deals, even though he lost that battle as the FCC develops rules for the spectrum that would apply to everybody. Ergen has said that Dish needs spectrum to move away from being just a satellite TV service. If he offers wireless broadband, then it could ensure that he wouldn’t be held hostage by cable operators as Dish-owned Blockbuster develops video streaming initiatives. He can always change his mind: If Ergen wants to get rid of the spectrum, AT&T or DirecTV probably would buy in a heartbeat. Dish shares are down 1.1% in early trading. Here’s the announcement:
With 26,000 members of the global media converging in London this summer, the 2012 Olympic Games will be the biggest media event in history. As such, Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom, says demand from wireless technologies will more than double in the capital during the Games’ seven-week run — testing the country’s spectrum reserves like never before. With wireless spectrum already at full capacity in London for many of the applications to be used during the Olympics, Ofcom has devised plans to manage the airwaves including borrowing spectrum from public sector bodies like the Ministry of Defence. It will also free up unused civil frequencies and make use of spectrum that’s available without a license. Ofcom has been at the task since 2006, shortly after London won the bid to host the Games. Tests have been run in the past year, including at the April 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. During the Games, up to 20,000 wireless frequencies will be assigned for such technologies as wireless cameras, microphones, timing and scoring systems and sports commentary systems. That’s more than double the number usually assigned in a year.