The wireless industry is beginning to wind down increasingly obsolete 2G and 3G networks in an effort to repurpose that spectrum for 5G. But lawmakers and public interest groups are increasingly concerned that shutting down those old networks could leave millions of people who still rely on them without service, particularly in rural areas. There’s new pressure for the FCC to intervene.
The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, which includes the Rural Wireless Association and Public Knowledge, urged the agency to mediate the on-going dispute between T-Mobile and DISH over T-Mobile’s impending shutdown of its 3G CDMA network. DISH says it was caught by surprise at T-Mobile’s plans to shut down its CDMA network on December 31 of this year, and that between four to five million of its Boost Mobile customers use this network.
T-Mobile argues that relatively few customers will be impacted, and that DISH should have no difficulty providing needed handsets to its customers in a timely manner. Similarly, the companies disagree over who is responsible for the current state of affairs and who has the legal responsibility to fix it, according to the coalition.
“We urge the Commission to require both licensees to work together to establish a reasonable transition schedule that allows T-Mobile to efficiently re-farm valuable spectrum for 5G services while simultaneously protecting subscribers and promoting competition,” say the groups to the agency in a letter. “T-Mobile’s shut-off of its CDMA network will bring public interest benefits in the long run, but must not harm vulnerable customers or undermine competition.”
Any solution should consider what steps both licensees can do to prevent any service disruption, according to the coalition. Rural Wireless Association members report that T-Mobile’s ongoing shut down of portions of the CDMA network has prevented the ability of rural customers to roam when they leave their home networks. “This is especially problematic during the pandemic when it is more difficult for rural providers to upgrade their networks to stay in lockstep with T-Mobile,” says the RWA.