Dish Network To Acquire Bankrupt DBSD

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PARIS — Satellite television provider Dish Network on Feb. 1 announced it has agreed to purchase struggling satellite-terrestrial wireless broadband provider DBSD North America, formerly called ICO North America, for $1 billion subject to adjustments.

Reston, Va.-based DBSD, whose S-band satellite and planned terrestrial network foundered on a lack of financing, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2009. It said during bankruptcy proceedings that to launch a second spacecraft similar to the little-used satellite, in orbit since April 2008, would cost $300 million, and that to roll out a network of terrestrial signal relays for nationwide coverage in the United States would cost between $300 million and $800 million.

In September 2009, Englewood, Colo.-based Dish made a surprise investment of about $45 million in DBSD’s debt, setting Dish up to become the company’s principal owner as it exits Chapter 11.

Dish at the time had battled other DBSD owners’ attempts to reorganize the company based on what Dish said were wildly optimistic projections of its likely success. The likelihood of a return to bankruptcy for what Dish labeled “an inherently risky telecommunications investment” was a concern, Dish said at the time.

Dish’s Feb. 1 announcement said it has proposed to the U.S. bankruptcy court handling the DBSD case that Dish lend DBSD $87.5 million in debtor-in-possession funds. The agreement to purchase 100 percent of DBSD’s equity, Dish said, is subject “to certain agreements, including interest accruing on DBSD North America’s existing debt.” The deal is also subject to U.S. regulatory approval, and to DBSD’s satisfactory emergence from Chapter 11, Dish said.

The Dish-DBSD agreement comes less than a week after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted DBSD competitor LightSquared a major waiver to the operating conditions that heretofore had been attached to licenses to use satellite spectrum for terrestrial wireless links.

The FCC ruled that LightSquared’s wholesale customers could sell terrestrial-only handsets alongside the dual-mode and satellite-only terminals. Although DBSD operates in S-band — LightSquared operates in L-band — the logic for DBSD seeking a similar waiver would appear compelling and may have caused the company’s value to climb appreciably in Dish’s evaluation.