FCC Chief Said to Oppose Dish’s $3 Billion Airwaves Discount

Dish Network Corp. partners don’t qualify for $3.3 billion in small-business discounts for federal airwaves, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has concluded, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Wheeler asked fellow commissioners to reject the joint bidding arrangements Dish had with SNR Wireless Co. and Northstar Wireless LLC, concluding that the companies weren’t eligible for the program, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the matter.

The companies were winners in January’s record-setting $44.9 billion airwaves auction with combined bids of $13.3 billion -- a sum that would drop to $10 billion with the discounts.

Wheeler said after a monthly commission meeting Thursday that he circulated a recommendation to other commissioners but declined to provide details. Two Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, also declined to discuss the recommendation.

Bob Toevs, a Dish spokesman, declined to comment.

The commission changed the program’s rules Thursday, voting 3-2 at the meeting to prevent larger companies from using the program, capping the bidding credits entities can receive at $150 million for small businesses and $10 million for rural service providers. The Dish case wasn’t discussed during the meeting.

Pai, who voted against the measure, criticized the rules for creating “new loopholes through which even a minimally competent attorney could drive a truck.”

Tactics such as Dish’s have been previously used at least 36 times by participants including wireless leaders AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., Dish said in a letter to a lawmaker who questioned the company’s participation.

“DISH, SNR and Northstar complied with the law,” Dish said. “Neither the FCC, nor Congress, should shift the goal posts after the fact.”

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