Is DISH the Junkyard Dog of American Companies?


"And he's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
Meaner than a junkyard dog"

-- Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, by Jim Croce

DISH Network's attempt last week to lure Clearwire away from what Sprint Nextel might have thought was a locked-in buyout deal, was just the latest action by the satellite TV provider to make telecom industry execs start chewing on their fingernails.

DISH's move on Clearwire shouldn't have been too surprising. As directed by its determined co-founder, chairman, and one-time CEO Charlie Ergen, the company has long been known as a disrupter

But "disrupter" is mild compared to other DISH characterizations. Bloomberg crowned DISH "The Meanest Company in America." And 24/7 Wall Street called it "America's Worst Company to Work For" after gleaning through employee reviews of 202 companies posted on

As of this writing, nearly two-thirds of the 662 DISH posters described themselves as either "Dissatisfied" (159), or "Very Dissatisfied" (259). Some recent complaints include: "extreme micromanagement," "worst benefits I have ever had," "mandatory overtime," "being ONE minute late is subject to termination," and "They make it very clear, each and every day, employees are expendable."

Federal Trade Commission rules may also seem expendable to DISH. Last August, The FTC sued (links to PDF file) DISH alleging that the company illegally called millions of consumers who had specifically asked the company not to call . The Department of Justice is also suing DISH for telemarketing to consumers on the Do Not Call Registry .

The feds should prepare themselves for a potentially long fight. TiVo's patent infringement lawsuit against DISH took five years before ending in 2011 with DISH finally settling, and paying up to the tune of $500 million .

And then there's the recently settled DISH v. Cablevision litigation. That has been going on since 2008, when Cablevision sued DISH for allegedly breaking their contract to carry programming from the now-defunct VOOM Channels. DISH finally agreed to pay Cablevision $700 million after a series of courtroom setbacks, including the judge accusing DISH of purposely destroying evidence that would harm its case.

And last year, DISH introduced the AutoHopper, a device designed to remove commercials from DISH DVRs. That, of course made TV executives hoppin' mad. CBS CEO Les Moonves said:

If they want to eliminate our commercials, we will not be in business with them - it's pure and simple .

Just hours before CBS, Fox, and NBCUniversal filed copyright infringement lawsuits against DISH, it led with a first strike against those broadcasters -- ABC too, for good measure - asking for a declaratory judgment that its commercial-zapping technology did not infringe upon those companies' rights.

This may be stating the obvious, but Ergen has said he "may be the only CEO who likes to go to depositions ."

DISH's big move
Charlie Ergen has called his company a "one-trick pony" because of the slowing growth of its pay-TV business. That's why he told a Silicon Valley audience last April that moving into the mobile video, data, and voice is chancy, but necessary. "For us, not taking a risk is the bigger risk," he said .

That move has already started. For the last two years, DISH has bought up $3 billion worth of spectrum from bankrupt companies, and it has just won approval from the Federal Communications Commission to put a portion of its satellite frequencies toward its future wireless operations . But to compete against companies like Verizon and AT&T, it's going to need a 4G LTE network on which to use his spectrum; hence, the offer for Clearwire.

Given the company's tenacity -- Ergen said in regard to the Cablevision litigation, "When we think we are right, we're like a dog with a bone ." -- it's reasonable for the entrenched wireless players to be a touch skittish watching DISH sniff around their fences ... a junkyard dog that won't let go.

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