The FCC late yesterday gave approval for Dish Network to deploy a terrestrial wireless broadband network on its holdings of what was previously spectrum reserved for satellite transmissions. The decision came concurrent with the commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for an auction of the H Block, a chunk of airwaves adjacent to Dish’s AWS spectrum in which Sprint has expressed interest. 

In a statement, the FCC said the approval of Dish’s spectrum, as well as the NPRM for the H Block, will help “meet skyrocketing consumer demand and promote private investment, innovation, and competition, while unlocking billions of dollars of value.”

The commission unanimously approved both measures with a 5-0 vote. 

The decision to allow Dish to deploy its terrestrial wireless network on the spectrum was fiercely contested by Sprint, which argued for the FCC to shift the band up 5 MHz from 2000-2020 MHz to 2005-2025 MHz to diffuse any interference with the H Block. 

Sprint expressed interest in the H Block as part of its ongoing LTE deployment, saying it would bid on the spectrum if the FCC put it on the auction block. Sprint currently uses a separate portion of the PCS band for LTE, making the H block particularly advantageous.

Dish meanwhile argued that a "full power" H Block would cause at least 25 percent of its uplink to become unusable, a claim Sprint said was erroneous.

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen was vocal throughout the process about how any further delays in the FCC's approval process would affect his company's plans to put the spectrum to use.

At the PCIA conference in October, Ergen said he was disappointed at how long it had taken the FCC to act on the matter. Ergen argued that further delays caused by acceptance of Sprint's proposals would hurt Dish's ability to compete with operators like AT&T and Verizon Wireless and said the company may be forced to sell the spectrum if it takes any longer.

Dish eventually conceded to designate the lowest 5 MHz of its uplink spectrum (2000-2005 MHz) as an internal terrestrial guard band, provided that safeguards were adopted to ensure that the remaining 15 MHz of its uplink spectrum (2005-2020 MHz) can be utilized as fully and as quickly as possible for mobile broadband.

In a response to a previous article from Wireless Week, John Taylor of Sprint public affairs, said that in its comments to the FCC, Dish failed to recognize that Sprint has continually endorsed Dish's proposal to build a wireless network. 

“We just don't want it done at the expense of our spectrum at the G Block or at the expense of the taxpayers who own the H Block,” Taylor wrote.

The FCC found itself in the middle of the spat, trying to preserve the value of the H Block, as an auction of that spectrum will help fund a nationwide, interoperable public safety network, while also facilitating another entrant into the wireless market.

In a statement today, Sprint said the FCC has made a “balanced and equitable decision” to adopt rules for the AWS-4 spectrum band that will enable it to support terrestrial broadband services. 

"At the same time, the Commission has moved forward toward auctioning the adjacent H Block spectrum. Sprint is especially encouraged that the Commission has indicated that it intends to hold the H Block auction next year,” said Larry Krevor, vice president of government affairs at Sprint. 

Dish now has to decide how it will proceed. Rumors have surfaced in recent days that the company might be seeking a partner for deployment of its network. Ironically, Bloomberg on Monday reported that Dish and Sprint had held talks about a possible partnership that would allow Dish to offer mobile phone service over Sprint’s network. 

Dish said the FCC had removed outdated regulations and granted “terrestrial flexibility” for most of the AWS-4 band. 

“The Commission has taken an important step toward facilitating wireless competition and innovation, and fulfilling the goals of the National Broadband Plan,” the company wrote in a statement. “Following a more thorough review of the order and its technical details, DISH will consider its strategic options and the optimal approach to put this spectrum to use for the benefit of consumers.”