DISH stalls discovery of its California plans, so PAO asks judge to compel cooperation

7 November 2019 by Steve Blum
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Dish ces press conference 2012

DISH doesn’t want to disclose what its intentions are for the Californian customers, employees, spectrum, cell sites and retail stores it might – or might not – get from T-Mobile and Sprint when – if – the two companies combine. In a motion filed on Tuesday, the California Public Utilities Commission’s public advocates office (PAO) said that DISH stonewalled requests for information about its California-specific privacy policy, and network build out and customer service plans. So, the PAO is asking the administrative law judge managing the CPUC’s review of the merger to “compel responses” from DISH.

Last month, the scope of the CPUC’s inquiry was expanded to include DISH’s future role in California’s telecoms marketplace, following a settlement with federal anti-trust enforcers that calls for pre-paid subscribers, and redundant employees and real estate to be transferred to DISH, in order to keep four competitors alive in the U.S. mobile telecoms market.

The PAO has broad authority to request and, generally, get information from companies involved in mergers and asset transfers. Usually, companies push back and DISH is no different – its answers (see links below) consist largely of complaints that the PAO’s questions “are overbroad, unduly burdensome,
vague, and ambiguous” and “not relevant to the scope of this proceeding”. The bit about the scope of the proceeding is important because DISH, like T-Mobile and Sprint, disputes “the scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction…over wireless services”.

Arm wrestling over information disclosures is common enough. What makes it different in this case is the compressed timeline for the CPUC’s expanded review of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. Assuming no deviation from the current schedule, the case is on a trajectory for a final commission vote in February. But if there’s a procedural detour to resolve DISH’s role and responsibility in the case or to, once again, allow time to work through a late document dump, the review could be extended for weeks, or even months. Or T-Mobile could make good on its threat to move ahead without the CPUC’s blessing.

More information should be forthcoming later today. T-Mobile, Sprint and, it appears, DISH are due to submit their explanation for why the federal settlement only makes the California wonderfulness of the merger even more wonderful. Or at least no worse. Stay tuned.

DISH Network Corporation’s Responses and Objections To the California Public Advocates Office’s Data Request No. 001, 20 September 2019
DISH Network Corporation’s Responses and Objections To the California Public Advocates Office’s Data Request No. 002, 31 October 2019
Motion of the Public Advocates Office to Compel Responses to Data Requests, 5 November 2019

Links to the stack of arguments and exhibits everyone has filed are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary, but I like to think I’m good looking too. Take it for what it’s worth.