Boost Mobile Users Face Service Loss Unless They Upgrade Phones

Boost Mobile wireless customers, many of them low income, will have to upgrade their phones or lose service in January, according to parent Dish Network Corp., which took over the service just a few months ago.

T-Mobile US Inc., which operates the 3G network used by Boost customers, plans to decommission that technology on Jan. 1, 2022, according to a regulatory filing Monday by Dish. The wireless network serves “a majority” of the 9 million Boost Mobile customers, according to Dish, which is developing an advanced 5G network of its own and also offers satellite-TV service.

Dish’s entry into the wireless business as the designated fourth U.S. carrier is off to a bumpy start -- the company lost 575,000 subscribers over the past two quarters -- and it now faces an even bigger hurdle: a network shutdown that will hit poorer customers hardest.

T-Mobile agreed to a federally arranged partnership with Dish as a condition of its takeover of Sprint Corp. As part of that deal, Dish bought Boost, Sprint’s prepaid service, for $1.4 billion to help set up a fourth U.S. mobile service. Monday’s filing revealed the first crack in this marriage.

T-Mobile, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, has a seven-year network-sharing agreement with Dish, but most Boost customers have phones that aren’t compatible with T-Mobile’s 4G and 5G technology. Millions of Boost customers will need new phones if the 3G network is shut off as planned, according to Dish.

“I don’t even think we could get a supply of the phones that we would need,” Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said on an call Monday with investors.

T-Mobile didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

FCC Matter

The matter seems likely to end up in Washington, where regulators can counsel the companies. Ergen said he hasn’t spoken with the Federal Communications Commission about the looming network shutdown. The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Democratic members of the FCC voted against the T-Mobile/Sprint merger and said at the time that Dish taking over Boost would do little to lessen the loss of competition caused by eliminating Sprint as a nationwide wireless carrier.

“These promises do little more than camouflage the competitive problems with this transaction,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in 2019. She’s now acting chairwoman.

Ergen said the last presidential administration helped set up the four-carrier solution, but that its fate falls to the new Biden administration.

“Washington picks winners and losers, and they make policy that affects people one way or the other,” Ergen said on the call. “We’ve had some good luck and we’ve had some bad luck with that.”

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