The drama surrounding wireless market dominance in the U.S. is perpetual; AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint are the top four dogs of the wireless scene, and they are constantly at each others’ throats — sometimes in seemingly childish ways. The drama of late has heightened for a number of reasons including a highly-anticipated spectrum auction to come within the year, and a video gone viral from T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere’s Twitter account — which has added fresh fuel to the fire in his public tiffs with other wireless giants.
Legere’s video depicts T-Mobile as a force that will rescue American consumers from the clutches of AT&T and Verizon — both depicted physically attached to each other as a menacing duopoly. While Legere has been notorious for his antics at conferences, speaking events, on Twitter — and once trying to crash an AT&T party — his rhetoric about Verizon and AT&T’s dominance is not far from the truth. Both carriers have the majority of American wireless customers. But Legere’s recent public statements — whether it be videos or blog posts in which he lambasts those companies — come at a critical juncture for T-Mobile. With a spectrum auction looming, his attempt to paint Verizon and AT&T in negative lights bolsters his loud requests that the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) save airwaves during that pending auction for smaller companies, disabling Verizon and AT&T from dominating the auction.
The F.C.C. scored a recent victory regarding the auction in that the National Association of Broadcasters (N.A.B.) had filed a lawsuit — since dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — against the F.C.C. and its procedures for the auction. N.A.B. claimed that some of the F.C.C.’s decisions violated the Spectrum Act of 2012; its lawsuit caused a temporary stay on the auction. But the court’s ruling means that the auction will go ahead within the year. The F.C.C. will vote on T-Mobile’s proposed changes to the auction process next month, but in the meantime, more drama is bubbling.
There have been reports circulating for about a month indicating that T-Mobile wants to partner up with Dish Networks. Dish has been under fire since April for manipulating the last round of spectrum sales. The company bought 44% of the spectrum available through two small companies that it owns, thus claiming $3.3 billion in discounts that the F.C.C. applies to smaller bidders. The outcries after everyone else in the industry realized what Dish had pulled off clearly did not deter T-Mobile from talks to merge both companies’ assets.
Many items are up in the air: how the F.C.C. will choose to regulate the next, crucial spectrum auction; whether or not T-Mobile will strike a deal with Dish and thus take advantage of its tons of spectrum; and whether or not a T-Mobile deal with any major broadband provider will be approved and not considered anti-competitive. But one thing is for certain: Legere’s antics — and his bombastic public relations campaign to make T-Mobile seem like the good guy — will not let up any time soon.