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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.