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.

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.