The lack of momentum calls into question whether any transaction will get done this year or at all.
The slow-moving Dish Network talks to acquire Bellevue-based T-Mobile US from Deutsche Telekom have stalled over concerns related to valuation and structure, people with knowledge of the matter said.
The lack of momentum calls into question whether any transaction will get done this year or at all, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The two companies will soon turn their attention to a spectrum auction in 2016 in which they’d either be bidding on wireless airwaves as one company or competing.
Satellite-television operator Dish and Deutsche Telekom would want to iron out an agreement in the next two or three months before focusing on the auction, the people said, and the halt in talks has made that time frame unlikely. Wireless carrier T-Mobile will eventually need more spectrum to continue growing, and a deal with Dish would let it avoid spending billions at government auctions.
The timing pressure stems from a quiet period the two companies would face related to an auction early next year of U.S. airwaves surrendered by television stations intended to help feed the growing need for mobile carriers. The companies will be barred from speaking publicly or to each other due to the Federal Communications Commission’s anti-collusion rules.
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The ball is in Dish’s court, two people familiar with the situation said. Deutsche Telekom has told Dish what kind of offer it wants and so far Dish hasn’t met that demand.
Dish and Deutsche Telekom have been discussing a deal for several years. Deutsche Telekom, based in Bonn, is concerned Dish’s stock will lose significant value if its wireless spectrum is put to use in a network, and any deal would require Dish to pay partially with stock, the people familiar said.
A spokesman for Deutsche Telekom declined to comment on the status of any potential talks, as did a spokesman for Dish.
Deutsche Telekom doesn’t need to sell T-Mobile now because the business has performed well in recent quarters, the people said. There’s a chance other buyers, such as Comcast, Altice and Sprint, could make a bid for T-Mobile in a new U.S. presidential administration, giving Deutsche Telekom more reasons to wait on selling, the people said.
“Is there some interest? Yes,” John Legere, T-Mobile’s chief executive officer, said on Bloomberg Television. “Is it one of a bunch of things that make huge sense in addition to this aggressive stand-alone plan that we have, gaining spectrum or looking at other alternatives? Yeah.”
Legere has been lobbying for a larger share in the spectrum auction next year, casting T-Mobile US as a superhero against “evil duopoly” Verizon Communications and AT&T.
Dish, based in Englewood, Colo., also has “other options that may be more attractive to our board and our shareholders,” CEO Charlie Ergen said in an interview with Bloomberg last month.
Ergen is known to start deal talks and not follow through. In addition to T-Mobile, he has discussed deals with AT&T, Sprint and DirecTV in recent years, failing to close on any of them.
FCC alters rules on auction
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved plans to prevent large businesses from gaining access to small-business discounts in an auction of airwaves expected early next year.
The new rules are in part a response to actions taken last year by Dish Network in another auction of airwaves. In that auction, Dish teamed up with smaller entities. Those corporations received a $3.25 billion discount on the $13 billion worth of spectrum they bought.
While the FCC has not concluded whether Dish broke any auction rules, the moves by the company led to calls for changes.
The rules passed on Thursday, the agency said, would be harder for companies to game. Under those rules, companies may receive a maximum discount of $150 million, and wireless carriers are barred from bidding through multiple companies.