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.

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.