Communications Trash-Talking in Aspen

Aspen, Colorado. Land of slopes, home of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, and for one day at least, a place for some fine communications policy trash-talking.

The arena was the opening reception of the Technology Policy Institute’s annual conference. The trash-talker was one R. Stanton Dodge, general counsel for the Dish Network, who told attendees that his company definitely still had plans to jump into the wireless game.

“This is a fine function with Verizon here,” Dodge said, “but we want to eat their lunch and AT&T’s as well.”

While Dodge’s bluster was entertaining, it also highlighted something often forgotten when it comes to communications policy. Specifically, that the industry has no shortage of current or willing participants. According to CTIA, there are now over 30 wireless providers in the U.S., which means Dish is looking to join a rather crowded field that is certainly not lacking a competitive playing field.

Dish’s wireless plans also highlight how important it will be for the FCC to allow unrestricted, competitive bidding among all qualified bidders in its upcoming spectrum auctions.  With its massive spectrum holdings — and plans to acquire more before it launches its service — the satellite TV provider is just one player who could be a major disruptive force in the industry. With every wireless provider in need of more airwaves to keep up with consumer demand on their networks, the FCC must avoid picking winners and losers by favoring some providers while restricting other qualified bidders from participating in the spectrum auctions.

That would be the very definition of anti-competitive behavior.