Telcos Wage Blog Battle Over Spectrum Assets

(Image credit: John Lund via Getty Images)

AT&T and T-Mobile are fighting the battle of the blogs this week over the FCC's spectrum screen and C-Band auction.

AT&T has asked the FCC to reconcile the fact that it has a spectrum screen to prevent one company from getting too much spectrum with the fact that after its merger with Sprint, the combined company exceeds that screen.

Related: C-Band Auction Set for December

That could impact new T-Mobile spectrum lease agreements and whether or how robustly, as T-Mobile puts it, the "uncarrier" could bid for midband spectrum in the upcoming C-band auction, scheduled to begin in December.

In a blog post last week, Joan Marsh, AT&T executive VP of regulatory and state external affairs, pointed out that T-Mobile has historically been a big advocate for applying the spectrum screen but that post-Sprint, "T-Mobile itself now exceeds the Commission’s screen by an unprecedented margin throughout much of the country," and that it has been allowed to add spectrum through lease agreements with Dish.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said that Sprint-T-Mobile's access to spectrum will help it become the facilities-based competitor to AT&T and Verizon the commission envisioned in blessing the deal.

In comments filed this week, AT&T said the FCC needs to explain how the spectrum screen was applied to the Dish spectrum lease secondary market transaction, which Verizon has challenged. "The industry is entitled to understand how the Commission analyzed a transaction that allowed an entity that exceeded the screen in a market to exceed it even further," AT&T said.

AT&T also wants to know how the FCC is going to apply the screen in the C-Band auction. "An auction raises fundamentally different questions than a secondary market transaction, and presumably the FCC’s approach would reflect that."

In a blog post response this week, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert slammed AT&T (and Verizon) for what he called their "latest effort to stifle true competition."

He suggested the FCC's backing of T-Mobile's spectrum bulk-up was indeed to bring "real competition" to the AT&T/Verizon "duopoly," and that, not surprisingly, the "behemoths" were trying to "thwart T-Mobile’s competitive access to wireless spectrum."

"Suddenly in the unfamiliar position of not having a dominant stranglehold on the wireless market, and preferring not to meet the competitive challenge in the marketplace, AT&T and Verizon are urging the FCC to slow T-Mobile down and choke off our ability to compete fairly for added radio spectrum," Sievert wrote, both in the secondary market and the C-Band auction. "Citing the 'spectrum screen', AT&T and Verizon would like to keep T-Mobile out of the bidding or at least put a damper on our ability to aggressively bid against them in this important auction, so that they can run the table unchecked," Sievert said.

Sievert conceded T-Mobile supported the FCC's spectrum screen when it was put in place "years ago," but said that the screen "does not take into account how additional spectrum can enable wireless carriers such as T-Mobile to utilize high capacity wireless networks, backed by spectrum, to provide genuine competition to the incumbent in-home broadband providers (such as AT&T, Verizon and Big Cable)."

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.