AT&T Has Big Issues With Auction Procedures

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler signaled following the FCC's politically divided vote on broadcast incentive auction procedures that nobody would be getting everything they wanted. He was right about that.

And it was not only the National Association of Broadcasters seeing red over the result, which included putting TV stations in the wireless band and carving out the spectrum with the least potential interference (impairment) for competitors to AT&T and Verizon.

AT&T exec Joan Marsh blogged after the decision that it was a mixed bag. The FCC, in a separate but related item, voted not to increase the reserve of that least-impaired spectrum from 30 to 40 MHz. She said that was the right call.

But AT&T clearly had major issues with the procedures item. Borrowing from NAB's Gordon Smith, Marsh said she feared the FCC's plan had given "getting it done" precedence over "getting it right."

Like NAB, AT&T is concerned about the FCC putting TV stations in the wireless band, which it says will cause "long-lasting and debilitating in-band impairments." AT&T is particularly concerned given that it is this impaired spectrum AT&T will be bidding on given that the less impaired spectrum is going into the reserve for nondominant carriers "limiting the supply of clean licenses available for AT&T and Verizon in many markets," it pointed out.

Then there is the decision to put some TV stations in the duplex gap even after wireless companies produced data demonstrating the interference threat.

While the FCC said each of its decisions—the size of guard bands (AT&T says they're too small, putting unlicensed mics adjacent to wireless downlinks, etc.)—will have minimal impact. Perhaps individually, says Marsh, but adds that cumulatively, "the effect is undeniably large, and it will impact bidding valuations and strategies and, ultimately, the revenue raised at auction."

T-Mobile, which had pushed for the 40 MHz reserve, was nonetheless sanguine about the overall result and signaled it would be participating in the spectrum auction.

“Chairman Wheeler said competition is the best tool for driving consumer benefits – and he is right," the company said in a statement. "We are pleased the 30 MHz reserve was established in the first place. And we are proud of the strong support we got for expanding the reserve from members of Congress, state government officials, dozens of consumer groups and thousands of consumers who advocated on the side of more competition in the wireless market. T-Mobile is looking forward to actively participating in the auction.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.