Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen blasted AT&T for demanding unreasonable terms from the pay-TV distributor for HBO, saying the telco is insisting Dish pay for a minimum number of subscribers to the premium cabler whether or not that number of Dish customers actually take HBO.

HBO on Oct. 31 removed its HBO and Cinemax channels from Dish and Sling TV lineups, the first time the premium cabler has ever gone dark in its 46-year history.

Ergen said AT&T is using HBO as an “economic weapon” to try to extract more money from Dish.

“This is purely an anti-competitive play that we tried to warn about” during the Justice Department’s antitrust case seeking to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, said Ergen, speaking on Dish’s third-quarter 2018 earnings call Wednesday. “We can’t sign a deal [under which] we would actually pay for [AT&T’s] customers — and that’s what it would be.”

According to Ergen, Dish would be effectively subsidizing AT&T wireless subscribers who are offered HBO free for life. HBO also sells its service direct to consumers through HBO Now.

AT&T didn’t consent to arbitration for disputes over HBO carriage in its concessions on the Time Warner deal (as it did with respect to Turner’s networks). “Obviously you can see why, because they can use [HBO] as a weapon against Dish,” Ergen said.

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