AT&T Stockpiling More 700 MHz Spectrum Threatens Interoperability

AT&T Mobility since its T-Mobile merger was shot down is attempting smaller spectrum acquisition deals like the one they had with Qualcomm that was approved. Despite AT&T losing some AWS spectrum to T-Mobile as part of the breakup agreement they gained some licenses to 700 MHz airwaves from Qualcomm and now want more from 700 MHz LLC even if threatens any future hope of 4G LTE Interoperability (700 MHz Interoperability 12-69). To submit non-docketed comments/pleadings or confidential pleadings to the FCC regarding this application groups or individuals participating must have registered with the FCC to participate in Universal Licensing System proceedings. Once logged in a pleading for ULS File Number 0005262760 which is the file number associated with this application can be submitted. Petitions to Deny this application are due by July 25th, 2012 with Oppositions due August 6th, 2012 and Replies due August 13th, 2012. I have already participated in this proceeding myself submitting my concerns stating why the deal should either be conditionally approved or denied. As it is much smaller than AT&T T-Mobile merger and is purely a spectrum swap there are less competitive concerns than there were for that proposed merger but some concerns do exist that need addressing.

As noted above the transaction(s) at issue here could further derail or threaten any future hope for 4G LTE device carrier interoperability among carriers offering 4G LTE services and as such the FCC should carefully review and evaluate all the evidence submitted for or against the transaction(s) at issue here. The FCC as I will explain in an upcoming article should implement and enforce 700 MHz interoperability rules which will benefit smaller carriers and foster greater competition. This is because the Big 2 carriers AT&T and Verizon have benefited from a non interoperable wireless market even making devices on their own networks incompatible with each other’s network. So not only are devices on AT&T’s network incompatible with those pof smaller carriers including Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, MetroPCS, Leap Wireless (Cricket), U.S. Cellular, C-Spire (Cellular South) etc but devices on AT&T’s network are also incompatible with those on Verizon’s network and vice versa.

Verizon T-Mobile Deal Appeasing FCC To Allow SpectrumCo Swap

According to the rumor mill Verizon’s proposed AWS spectrum swap with T-Mobile and their 700 MHz divestitures are appeasing the FCC into accepting the SpectrumCo swap but the DOJ is still worried about the JOE with the cable companies. Whether the FCC is intent on approving it its reported they won’t do so without DOJ support as well. This is good news for consumers and competition especially if reports are accurate that the DOJ might oppose these sweetheart deals.

Opposition to Verizon’s cable deals continue from public interest groups and consumers wanting to ensure sufficient broadband and mobile broadband competition continue despite the agency resale and joint operating entity agreements
between these companies. Since a Comcast executive has admitted this is an integrated transaction both the DOJ and FCC should be examining both aspects in combination. The fact is as bad as both the license transfer and JOE are individually they are far worse together for consumers. The Consumers Federation of America has even spoken out that the JOE ends the 1996 Telecommunications Act’s competitive promise for consumers by turning competitors into partners so they can divy up the spoils of the Internet market by dividing the Internet amongst themselves. These deals must not be allowed to proceed at least not with the JOE. The license transfer must either be conditionally approved and the JOE denied or both rightly denied.

Carterfone & AT&T Breakup Enabled Opening of Equipment Business

In 1984 AT&T in exchange for government permission to enter the computer equipment business agreed to a breakup of its subsidiaries into several Regional Baby Bells. The breakup was very beneficial for consumers and resulted in greater competition. Unfortunately, in the 2000s AT&T Corp., as it came to be known was allowed to re-merge with two of the original Baby Bells from the Ma Bell System: SBC Communications and later Bell South. Another Baby Bell MCI eventually become part of Verizon Communications which is a co-owner of Verizon Wireless.

What some people don’t know is in 1968 the FCC ruled that wire-line telephones had to be made compatible with any telephone company. The Carterfone decision as it was called paved the way for the innovation of the fax machine and allowed innovation in the phone equipment business that the AT&T monopoly otherwise sought to curtail. Today the wireless market for cellular phones and tablets looks a lot unfortunately like the phone equipment market pre Carterfone with wireless carriers allowed to dictate which handsets work with which carriers. It is imperative that this be resolved eventually for the benefit of the consumer.

Right now the Federal Communications Commission is accepting comments on a proceeding regarding interoperability rules for carriers with 700 MHz of wireless spectrum (12-69). They also have an open proceeding on Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) rules for holders of AWS spectrum (12-70). I would encourage anyone who has not had a chance to comment on these proposals to file comments as soon as possible in support of interoperability requirements for carriers using both 700 MHz and AWS spectrum. Furthermore, anyone wanting to contribute their opinion(s) on such rules are certainly welcome in doing so and public input is certainly a good thing. Otherwise the corporations against interoperability and any rules benefiting the public’s interest would be the only ones to speak out. We need to show their is support for pro consumer policies like these that also benefit smaller wireless companies and are thus pro competitive. AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless might not like these rules but the proposed rules benefit smaller companies and consumers a like.

I have already commented myself in these proceedings and mentioned having an open equipment market for cellular phones and tablets that can work with the carrier of the individual’s choice and would encourage others to do so as well. Please note that the FCC’s next Open Commission meeting is on Friday April 27th at which time they will vote on some proposed rules in proceedings related to standardized and enhanced disclosure pertaining to broadcaster’s public interest obligations (00-168) that while still open the commenting period for rules has passed, and on a few other proceedings related to USF contributions etc.

T-Mobile Call Center Layoffs Results in AT&T Disingenuous Attack on FCC

A few weeks back it was announced that T-Mobile USA which survived a takeover attempt from AT&T Mobility would layoff several call center workers. AT&T which has also laid off call center workers reacted saying their merger could have saved these jobs. Never mind the fact that many duplicative jobs would have been lost as a result of the merger in retail and engineering and that the takeover was anti-competitive as AT&T believes that it could have saved these jobs had the merger occurred.

AT&T is now publicly criticizing the FCC like a sore loser upset at the denial of their merger. Even though they got a nice consolation prize in the form of 700 MHz of unused wireless spectrum from Qualcomm that regulators allowed AT&T to acquire they want to resort to petty attacks against this agency. The fact is the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission denied the merger because it was found to be anti-competitive and not in the public’s interest to have even fewer choices in the nationwide market for wireless service providers.

Their deceptive attempt to Monopolize Everything using their PR campaign “Mobilize Everything” rightly backfired on them and now they need to just move on. AT&T’s arrogance in assuming the merger was a done deal and suggesting to the public their opinion didn’t matter if they were opposed to the merger helped torpedo the takeover. From the start the “inevitable” merger of AT&T Mobility with T-Mobile USA was rightly under intense government scrutiny as it proposed making an already concentrated wireless market even less competitive. Fortunately, regulators were not willing to allow anymore consolidation on such a massive scale in the U.S. wireless market despite all of AT&T’s lobbying and advertising the merger was killed.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Digital Literacy

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Access to high-speed Internet services – also known as broadband – has become a basic public necessity like water or electricity. Yet despite its importance, broadband in America is far from universal.  Part of the solution is improving digital literacy for all Americans so they can acquire the skills they need to connect to the Internet. However, that still leaves the competition issues I raised earlier unaddressed that will need addressing to bring down costs, provide consumers more choices and result in better service. It is my hope the competition issues will be addressed at some point in the near future by the FCC.

Now as for digital literacy as I have stated the FCC has proposed using some USF funds to foster greater broadband adoption through investment in digital literacy training. Broadband adoption is important as is broadband deployment and I am glad to see the FCC taking actions to help bridge the digital divide. It is my hope that the FCC’s rulings in broadband matters help the people that need it not cement the power of  the monopoly phone and cable companies. The status quo on broadband is unacceptable.

The future of all media lies in the Internet. Think about that for a moment. This means all information, communication, commerce and entertainment is increasingly going online. Increasingly new technologies and telecommunications services like broadband will play a greater role in our economy. With employers looking for new workers increasingly advertising job openings on the Web job seekers will need both the skills to access the Internet and a broadband connection to apply for positions and remain competitive. That is why broadband competition and digital literacy are so important.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition & Digital Literacy

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We need to decide whether like universal mail service or universal basic telephone service whether to make universal broadband a reality. That being said the decisions we make as a country will determine whether such service will remain a luxury marketed by monopoly cable and phone companies to the few who can afford their exorbitant prices and live in areas where they deploy access to broadband or like any public utility/telecommunications service be made universally available to all.

Part of the solution is improving digital literacy for all Americans so they have the skills they need to access the Internet. Already the National Telecommunications Information Administration in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce has established the website digitalliteracy.gov and institutions of higher learning often conduct digital literacy workshops for their instructors so they can learn how to use new technologies in their classrooms. Digital literacy courses are often provided so students can also learn how to use new technologies.

Now as to whether the FCC has the constitutional authority to provide USF funds for digital literacy training I do believe they have authority and should use it. I encourage the FCC to vote in the affirmative on the proposal for advancing broadband availability through digital literacy training which the FCC is soliciting comments on at this time. In fact, I have provided the FCC my comments on existing digital literacy initiatives launched by educational institutions that have succeeded. Next post will cover the USF Transformation Order  in more detail along with my thoughts on other FCC proposals affecting the future of the Internet.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition

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Access to high-speed Internet services – also known as broadband – has become a basic public necessity like water or electricity. Yet despite its importance, broadband in America is far from universal. Broadband Internet Providers have been allowed to remain largely deregulated and to only market service in areas of they’re choosing. We need to decide whether like universal mail service or universal basic telephone service whether to make universal broadband a reality. That being said the decisions we make as a country will determine whether such service will remain a luxury marketed by monopoly cable and phone companies to the few who can afford their exorbitant prices and live in areas where they deploy access to broadband or like any public utility/telecommunications service be made universally available to all.

In order to do so though the FCC has to restore competition mandates on broadband providers by reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Competition and investment not a weak Network Neutrality regime are what’s needed but this FCC has been unwilling to do so. That being said in Comcast v. FCC the courts already ruled that the FCC lacks ancillary authority even to enforce Network Neutrality rules. What can be done? Either the President should encourage the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in to enforce Network Neutrality rules on broadband providers as that agency has authority over information services or instruct the FCC to reclassify broadband to ensure it has the authority to regulate broadband providers.

Broadband reclassification would the best choice as it enables the FCC to set the competition mandates needed for broadband that have kept the dial-up Internet access market competitive. That being said as the U.S. State Department under the Obama Biden Administration has sought to promote Internet freedom abroad we must have regulatory policies firmly in place to protect and promote it at home. The FCC’s historic decision last October to transform the Universal Service Fund into a Connect America Fund for making universal broadband a reality while lauded by public interest groups also drew concern as well. Media reform and public interest group Free Press which runs SaveTheInternet.com asked its members before the FCC voted on the USF Transformation order to submit comments in the Connect America Fund proceeding (10-90) urging the Commission to reject the telecom industry’s ABC Plan. Free Press wanted to ensure the proposed reforms would not further enrich big telecom giants at our expense.

Indeed Free Press questioned whether the FCC’s USF Transformation order would amount to a rip-off for consumers or result in real reforms that benefit the public. Ultimately the FCC didn’t rubber stamp the ABC Plan written by AT&T and Verizon but it missed an opportunity to bring real pro-consumer reforms to a wasteful system. The question now is as the FCC seeks to implement the National Broadband Plan, and reform other parts of the Universal Service Fund like the Lifeline & Link Up programs how they will enact some of these reforms. Next post I’ll address the need for broadband competition and to advance digital literacy to improve broadband adoption in more detail.

Stop Verizon & Big Cable’s Shenanigans

As if the “inevitable” AT&T T-Mobile merger rightly killed by federal regulators wasn’t bad enough now Verizon Wireless and a handful of big cable companies want to enter into anti-competitive marketing agreements to divide up the Internet amongst themselves. The agency resale and joint operating entity agreements are part of an anti competitive spectrum licensing transfer filed by SpectrumCo (a consortium of cable companies including Comcast NBC, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks) and Cox Communications. If this  sweetheart deal between Verizon Wireless and Big Cable  is approved what little broadband competition still exists in the fixed wire-line market would disappear with Verizon Communications expected to discontinue expansion of their  land-line FIOS Phone, Internet and TV services into new markets if it does not abandon FIOS service altogether. There’s no way to sugarcoat it these deals would be a disaster for consumers, competition and violate the intent of Congress when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The good news is public interest groups have convinced the FCC in examining whether to approve the license transfer or not to request the companies involved provide them more information on their marketing agreements. As such the FCC must review the commercial agreements and the spectrum transfer in combination even if its review of the marketing agreements are part of a separate proceeding.

After all Comcast’s Executive Vice President David Cohen has admitted that the deals are part of an integrated transaction. There was never any discussion about having the spectrum sale without the commercial agreements. Both the Justice Department and the FCC are examining the deals in combination which public interest groups say should be denied anyways because of the massive spectrum concentration that would occur should the deals be approved. After all both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility have plenty of existing spectrum compared to smaller rivals  in both the national post-paid and pre-paid market(s) and the regional post-paid/pre-paid market(s) like Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, MetroPCS, Leap Wireless (Cricket) and C-Spire Wireless.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to comment yet on the proposed transaction(s) please e-mail the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division at antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov or file comments with the FCC at their website using docket 12-4. Also contact your member of Congress including your Representative and your U.S. Senators urging their opposition to the transactions. The U.S. Senate recently held an antitrust subcommittee hearing on the proposed deals where Verizon Wireless and Big Cable faced strong criticism. Let’s keep up the pressure and stop Verizon & Big Cable from carving up the Internet amongst themselves.

U.S. FTC Concerned by AT&T Mergers FCC Investigating

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Even before the U.S. Department of Justice filed its antitrust lawsuit to block the anti competitive, anti consumer jobs killing AT&T T Mobil merger apparently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission had serious concerns about the deal and the proposed transaction for AT&T to also acquire Qualcomm’s spectrum.  In fact the Federal Communications Commission has launched a joint investigation of both proposed mergers since it rightly decided to combine its review of both deals. If you too are rightly concerned by the possibility for greater abuse by AT&T if either merger or both mergers were approved suggest emailing a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Competition Bureau via antitrust@ftc.gov.

If you do so I would suggest your letter to the FTC include your name, mailing address and a daytime telephone number. Also suggest submitting any critical comments of either or both of AT&T’s proposed mergers in the FCC’s docket regarding the proposed AT&T T Mobil merger (11-65) asap. You can also write the Federal Communications Commission via e-mail. Each Commissioner has their own email address. The Chairman’s is julius.genachowski@fcc.gov, Commissioner Michael Copps can be emailed via michael.copps@fcc.gov, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s email is mignon.clyburn@fcc.gov, and Commissioner Robert McDowell’s email is robert.mcdowell@fcc.gov. You can also email comments to the FCC at info@fcc.gov and/or fccinfo@fcc.gov. Finally even though Justice has already filed its antitrust lawsuit and a trial date has been set for next February (2012) suggest consumers opposed to either or both mergers email the US Justice Department’s Antitrust Division if they haven’t done so already via antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov and emailing the US Justice Department directly at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.

Why Internet Companies Should Oppose AT&T T Mobil Merger

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Internet companies especially those rightly supporting Net Neutrality should worry about the potential of the job killing, competition and consumer choice reducing AT&T T Mobil merger. The merger which would likely result in higher prices would also give AT&T more market power and increased incentive to discriminate against innovators and users online. Nonetheless some technology companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, and Yahoo have unfortunately chosen to support the merger. Whether or not they are aware of the risks to the wireless market and chose to ignore them or naively chose to believe AT&T’s empty promises that if it wins approval for the deal it will expand mobile broadbnd access is unclear.  One thing is certain though one web company Google is strangely silent on the issue of this merger.

Google which has been a longtime supporter of Network Neutrality at least up until last year when it reached a controversial deal with Verizon Wireless on a Network Neutrality framework exempting nondiscrimination requirements from wireless services has been silent on this telecommunications merger. Last year when they announced their pact with Verizon Wireless they were criticized by Facebook and a number of public interest groups and pro Net Neutrality activists.

On the issue of Microsoft’s support for the merger remember this is the same company taken to court by antitrust regulators in the US Department of Justice for trying to illegally monopolize the market for web browsing software. So Microsoft’s no champion of the Open Internet and their past history proves such. However, for Google a previous supporter of openness and nondiscrimination to have made that pact with Verizon Wireless was really outrageous. What’s more outrageous is their silence on the issue of the AT&T T Mobil and Qualcomm mergers as well as Facebook’s support of the merger.