AT&T, Verizon Haggle with Sprint, T-Mobile Over Spectrum Rules

By Josh Long Comments
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As the Federal Communications Commission prepares to adopt rules for a 2015 spectrum auction, the nation’s four biggest wireless providers continue to argue over whether the agency should reserve a portion of low-band spectrum for carriers that lack such capacity.

AT&T (116 million customers) and Verizon Wireless (103 million retail connections), the two largest wireless carriers, oppose a plan that would exclude them from bidding on all the low-band spectrum in an “incentive auction" through which TV broadcasters will have the chance to relinquish airwaves for a portion of the anticipated billions in proceeds.

Sprint and T-Mobile USA have had opportunities to purchase low-band spectrum in the past and are large companies that shouldn’t get preferential treatment, AT&T and Verizon Wireless said in filings with the FCC.

The FCC is expected to vote Thursday on rules for the auction during its open meeting. 

In a meeting with FCC officials, “Verizon stressed that it would be perverse and unjust for the Commission to adopt auction rules that subsidize some large multinational companies at the expense of their competitors," Verizon declared in a May 6 FCC filing. “T-Mobile and Sprint are large corporations with established, well-financed corporate parents. They and their parent corporations are more than capable of paying substantial amounts to acquire spectrum in the incentive auction if they choose to do so."

T-Mobile acquired more spectrum than AT&T and Verizon combined the last time it participated in an auction, spending $4.2 billion, Verizon said.

The filing also said Sprint holds nearly twice as much overall spectrum as Verizon while pointing out T-Mobile has acquired 700 MHz A Block licenses, covering nine of the ten top markets and 70 percent of its customer base.

In a separate filing, AT&T sought to dispel the notion that it was given most of its low-band spectrum in the 1980s. Rather, the company purchased more than 97 percent of the spectrum at an auction or through transactions in the secondary market, AT&T said.

“Sprint and T-Mobile had their own opportunities to acquire low-frequency spectrum, but they consciously chose not to, purely for reasons of business strategy," AT&T stated in a May 2 FCC filing.

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