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How Dish Saved Sprint

Satellite TV provider Dish Network ended up being the savior for the T-Mobile Sprint merger. Just when it seemed that regulators would reject the $26.5 billion marriage, Dish swooped in and made a deal last summer brokered by the Department of Justice that would make it a fourth national carrier to replace Sprint. 

As part of the agreement, Dish is acquiring Sprint's prepaid mobile brand Boost and Sprint's 800MHz wireless spectrum to help it build a 5G network that is supposed to rival the likes of AT&T, Verizon and the new T-Mobile. Making a deal was critical, since the DOJ had said that reducing the number of wireless carriers from four to three was anticompetitive. Adding Dish as a new nationwide competitor satisfied its antitrust concerns. The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission, which also needed to approve the merger, had already indicated it would do so, even without Dish in the picture. 

At first, Dish, a struggling satellite TV provider, may not have been the most obvious choice to replace Sprint as the fourth nationwide wireless competitor. But a closer look at the company reveals deep-seeded wireless ambitions. Notorious deal-maker Charlie Ergen, who controls Dish, has spent the better part of a decade promising to transition its shrinking satellite TV business into a mobile wireless powerhouse. 

Still, many critics are skeptical that Dish will be able to pull off its plans. This was the argument made by the 14 state attorneys general who sued to stop the merger late last year. Ultimately, that challenge failed when, in February, a district court judge sided with Sprint and T-Mobile that a combined wireless company would have a better chance of competing with AT&T and Verizon.

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