Ina Fried

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Dish Chairman Ergen on Why the Company Needs a Wireless Network, Anyway

While it is best known for its position in the satellite business, Dish Networks has been building up wireless spectrum for quite awhile.

“First and foremost, we are a video company,” Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said in an interview at D: Dive Into Media. But, Ergen said, once the company realized that the same network would deliver video, voice and data, it realized it might be in different businesses.

“Ideally, we’d build a network,” Ergen said, noting that all the current networks are still voice-centric. “Because we took so long to get our license, that is more difficult. That probably is outside of the grasp of reality. … It’s better to probably work with someone who is in the business.”

In addition to the wireless spectrum it already holds, Dish has made a $5.15 billion bid for a stake in Clearwire, which Sprint had earlier announced its intention to acquire.

Ergen said that Dish’s offer for Clearwire is not illusory, “but the deck is stacked against us,” he acknowledged. However, he insisted, his offer is better for shareholders.

“Ideally, we’d compete against the AT&Ts and Verizons,” he said. “To do that, we’d need more spectrum.”

The cable and phone companies are good at delivering video, voice and data inside the home, and the wireless companies do good outside the home. Ergen said his goal is to do well with both. “That’s why we think we need wireless spectrum.”

Ergen said the company’s intention has never been to sell the spectrum, but the Federal Communications Commission has created an opportunity to get billions if it chose to do so. “We don’t want to sell the spectrum.”

As for what it would do if it can’t buy Clearwire, Ergen said there is a Plan B, but declined to get specific.

Earlier in the interview, Ergen said his company needs to own wireless to deliver television outside the home.

“We want to compete against both the cable guys and the wireless guys, and we want to do it inside the house and outside the house, and that’s why we think we need wireless spectrum,” Ergen said. “We’d like to own a wireless network so we can give you a quality of service.”

The company said it didn’t know how to get into the wireless business, but felt like it needed to do it to serve its customers outside the home.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google