FCC OK's AT&T Low-Band Spectrum Buy

The FCC has decided to allow AT&T to have more than one-third of the low-band spectrum in two markets in Texas. It granted the assignment of two C Block (lower 700 MHz) licenses from Peoples Wireless Services to AT&T Mobility, saying it would not foreclose competition and had public interest benefits. It also helped that no petitions to deny the deal, or even comments on it, were filed.

Control of more than one third of the low-band spectrum in a market (the FCC's so-called "spectrum screen") triggers enhanced FCC scrutiny for anticompetitive issues, but does not preclude a transaction if the public benefits outweigh the harms.

Low-band (under 1 GHz) spectrum, like that in the broadcast incentive auction, is an issue with the FCC, which wants to make sure that beachfront wireless spectrum is not concentrated in too few hands, hence the 1/3 holdings trigger for enhanced review.

But in this case, said the FCC, other major providers have significant market share and access to low-band spectrum sufficient to deploy LTE, as well as above-1 GHz spectrum to help with LTE.

"We find that the acquisition of this spectrum by AT&T is unlikely to foreclose rival service providers from entering or expanding in these two local markets, and is unlikely to raise rivals’ costs."

As to the public interest benefits, the FCC signaled that the bar was lower given the deal's low likelihood of competitive harms, but said it anticipates that "AT&T would be able to deploy a more robust LTE network in a relatively short period of time."

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.