The Federal Communications Commission declared that Dish Network Corp. controls two affiliates that won $3.3 billion in discounts at an airwaves auction, again saying the companies don’t get the benefit reserved for small businesses.

The action, announced by email on Monday, doesn’t immediately cost Dish any money and gives it a chance to ask a court to rule that its affiliates properly pursued the discount, Blair Levin, an analyst for News Street Research, said in a note prepared before the FCC released its order.

Dish’s partners, Northstar Wireless LLC and SNR Wireless LicenseCo LLC, won airwaves licenses in a 2015 auction and received the small-business discounts. The FCC denied the credits, saying the companies in fact were controlled by Dish. The affiliates gave up $3.3 billion worth of licenses.

A court in 2017 upheld the FCC’s decision, but said Northstar and SNR deserved a chance to address the agency’s concerns. The companies in 2018 told the FCC they’d changed their relationship with Dish to resemble arrangements the agency approved in other cases. More than two years passed without action until a flurry of meetings on Nov. 16 at the FCC.

“The decision is a setback for an emerging competitor and we are disappointed,” Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said in an emailed statement on Monday.

Dish representative Karen Modlin declined to comment when asked whether the company would appeal the ruling to a court.

If the FCC auctions the relinquished licenses, Dish could be liable to pay a shortfall from the 2015 prices. But the licenses may fetch more in a new auction, eliminating the need for payment to redress a shortfall. Levin added that Dish is free to bid in a new auction for the airwaves, which are intended for mobile networks that feed telephones.

The markets where Dish gave up frequencies are in areas such as New York, Chicago and Boston, so “the likelihood of there being no demand is low,” Kannan Venkateshwar, an analyst with Barclays, said in a note.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai long has been a critic of Dish’s arrangement with its affiliates. Speaking in 2015 as a commissioner before ascending to lead the agency, he called Dish’s partnership an “abuse” that “makes a mockery” of agency procedures.

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