Skip to main content

AT&T: Auctions Are All About Revenue

The single most important goal of the upcoming broadcaster incentive auctions is making sure they raise enough revenue, and that means "unfettered participation" by all qualified bidders if the FCC is to raise enough money to pay for a public safety network.

That is the message from AT&T VP of federal regulatory, Joan Marsh, according to testimony for the July 23 House Communications Subcommittee spectrum policy oversight hearing.

Marsh did not confine her case to generalities about nondiscriminatory bidding access, as it were. "[A]s is always the case in regulatory proceedings of significant import, there are some who want the Commission to game the rules to favor certain competitors over others. These proposals vary in their specifics but they share a common thread: restricting or preventing AT&T and Verizon from participating in the spectrum auction, while steering spectrum to others, in particular, Sprint and T-Mobile."

If that happens, she said, it could jeopardize that network and other important policy goals.

Marsh argued that Sprint already has a "deep" spectrum position and the new, deep pockets of Japanese owner Softbank, so it has the muscle to bid for spectrum at auction. As for T-Mobile, it is owned by Deutsche Telekom, said AT&T, one of the world's largest telecoms, has picked up spectrum from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and MetroPCS, while airing ads claiming its network is less congested than AT&T's.  The bottom line, said Marsh: "[T]here is no basis upon which to conclude that Sprint and T-Mobile have a greater need for spectrum resources at this auction than other providers, including AT&T," or that they need government "favors" to be able to bid.

The FCC is considering modifying its local market spectrum screen, which could limit the ability of AT&T and Verizon -- and conceivably others -- to bid for spectrum in some markets. The Justice Department has weighed in in support of such a proposal.

As for the FCC's band plan for repacking stations and fitting in wireless carriers after the auction, AT&T said the guiding principle should be getting the engineering right. That means only allowing unlicensed services to the extent they do not interfere with wireless. "It would make no sense to build a technically strong band plan, only to undermine it by permitting unlicensed uses that introduce new interference challenges," Marsh said.