Skip to main content

FCC List Shows AT&T Has Access to Most of Rural Reserve

The FCC has released a market-by-market list of which national carriers can bid for the reserved low-band spectrum in the forward portion of the broadcast incentive auction—the FCC created the reserve so that the non-dominant holders of that beachfront low-band spectrum could get access to it—and it looks like AT&T can bid in the majority of smaller, rural markets.

In the top five markets, that is only Sprint and T-Mobile, and with Sprint saying it is sitting the auction out, that means only T-Mobile among the major carriers will be reserve-eligible.

That top 10 market spectrum serves approximately 70 million people. Verizon and AT&T already have the majority of low-band spectrum. Verizon doesn't get to bid on reserve spectrum until markets 8 and 9, Dallas and Miami, respectively, and AT&T can't bid until market 14, Cleveland.

But any suggestion rural carriers needed the reserve to get spectrum to better serve rural customers appears to be belied by the list. AT&T is eligible to bid on reserve spectrum in the vast majority of markets with populations below 100,000.

Back in June, FierceWirelsss reported that T-Mobile CEO John Legere had said the company was pushing for more low-band spectrum so it could improve rural coverage. "'In rural areas, people are stuck with only dumb and dumber to choose from,' Legere said, referring to Verizon and AT&T," the website reported.

At the time, AT&T pointed out in a blog post that "in many rural areas, AT&T’s low-band portfolio is simply not sufficient to trigger the auction restrictions so our bidding in most rural areas will not be restricted, regardless of the size of the reserve." (T-Mobile had pushed for a 40 MHz reserve, though the FCC settled on 30 MHz).

The FCC's spread sheet on the reserve-eligible players bears that out.

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.