Dish Network faced the prospect of losing access to $3.3 billion-worth of mid-band spectrum licences, after Fox Business reported the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reaffirmed an earlier finding that two entities controlled by the operator improperly received bidding discounts during an AWS-3 auction in 2014.

The decision was not made public, but sources told Fox Business reporter Charles Gasparino the ruling was unanimous. In a TV segment he predicted Dish Network would appeal, but noted the FCC would re-auction the licences and tap the operator for any shortfall on the $3.3 billion fee.

In a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dish Network said it “expects to participate in any re-auction”.

The operator has other spectrum assets it plans to use for a forthcoming 5G network, but the ruling could present a financial challenge: it ended Q3 with cash flow of $651 million and $2.8 billion of cash and marketable securities.

Questions about the fate of the licences have swirled since 2015, when it emerged the operator used two designated entities to bid on $13.3 billion worth of spectrum and qualify for $3.3 billion in auction discounts intended for small businesses.

The FCC ruled the businesses, SNR Wireless and Northstar Wireless, were not entitled to the discounts they claimed because they were controlled by Dish Network. The companies subsequently relinquished licences worth $3.3 billion, but Dish Network challenged the FCC’s decision in court.

In 2017, a judge ordered the regulator to offer the pair a chance to remedy the discount eligibility issues. Dish Network subsequently shuffled its business relationships with both in March 2018, with the matter pending review ever since.