MMTC to FCC: Grant DE Credits to SNR, Northstar

The Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council has asked the FCC to finally grant the bidding credits denied SNR Wireless and Northstar Wireless in the AWS-3 auction more than five years ago. 

MMTC has been pushing for resolution for several years now. It says the holdup has prevented new affordable broadband competition. 

"The Applicants have shown how effectively and quickly their AWS-3 spectrum can be used to provide broadband services to U.S. consumers," MMTC said in a letter to the FCC dated Friday, June 12. "Yet they have also explained how the lack of action on their applications has prevented them from engaging in definitive business planning. With their status as potential competitive entrants in regulatory limbo for over two years, it is objectively clear that this process has stalled the Applicants’ ability to introduce the type of additional competition into the market that would make broadband access more ubiquitous and more affordable." 

Getting broadband to as many people as possible is a prime directive for the FCC in the new, stay-at-home normal of COVID-19. 

MMTC did not invoke the current national reckoning over racial inequality, but that was a definite subtext. It said another reason to act was that the companies are "two of the most successful minority-controlled bidders in the history of the FCC’s spectrum auction program. Minority participation in the communications industry is essential to ensuring that historically marginalized and disadvantaged communities are represented in and benefit from telecommunications." 

The letter came only a day after the FCC's diversity committee stated flatly that systemic racism does, indeed, persist, making the FCC's goal of diversity in communications that much more important. 

Related T-Mobile Says FCC Must Penalize Dish, DE's

The FCC had denied the companies designated entity (DE) bidding credits, a way to encourage minority participation in spectrum auctions. 

The two companies teamed with Dish Network to acquire $10 billion worth of spectrum licenses in the AWS-3 auction. But the FCC subsequently concluded that Dish's majority financial interests in the companies were controlling interests that should be attributable to Dish, which meant the companies were ineligible for the $1.9 billion (Northstar) and $1.4 billion (SNR Wireless) bidding credits they had applied for. 

Related: Court Upholds FCC Nixing of Dish-Related AWS-3 Credits

The credits would have lowered their bid to $10 billion, but the companies said they could not pay for all of the licenses, so instead the paidg full price for some and turned back others, which the FCC allowed them to do.  

A federal court in August 2017 upheld the finding that Dish exercised de facto control, but also held that the FCC, under then chair Tom Wheeler, failed to notify the companies that if the FCC found they did not qualify for the credits, worth billions of dollars, the FCC would not give them a chance to cure that problem and instructed the FCC to correct. 

The FCC under new management and in response to the court remand, told the companies to renegotiate with Dish and other parties and file the necessary documents to show they now qualify for the credit, which they ultimately did. 

"It has been more than five years since the conclusion of Auction 97 and more than two years since the Applicants, two minority-controlled businesses, submitted revised applications, removing all concerns about their independence from their strategic investor, DISH Network Corporation," MMTC said. "Accordingly, the applications are ripe for grant." 

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.