Dish Network Corp. is leading the race to scoop up assets that the Justice Department says Sprint Corp. S, +2.94% and T-Mobile US Inc. TMUS, +0.60% must divest of to save their $26 billion merger, according to people familiar with the matter.
Dish Executive Chairman Charlie Ergen has been trying to persuade antitrust enforcers the wireless merger is bad for competition. Now he is arguing the best way to remedy that is to force the wireless operators to cast off more of the business to Dish DISH, -0.92% .
His satellite-TV operator is in talks to buy prepaid subscribers and wireless spectrum licenses from the merger partners, the people said. Discussions are expected to continue over the weekend and Dish may not reach a deal. Other suitors include cable operators Charter Communications Inc. CHTR, +0.61% and Altice USA Inc., the people said.
Justice Department officials want the buyer to keep together assets it purchases, people familiar with the matter said. Dish, meanwhile, has amassed vast amounts of wireless spectrum over the years that it needs to put to use or risk losing its licenses. New Street Research analysts estimate at least $35 billion of spectrum is at risk.
Ergen met jointly with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim this week and “explained the need for a minimum of four nationwide mobile network operators,” according to an FCC filing posted Friday.
An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.