AT&T Duels with Sprint, Others Over Spectrum Legislation

By Josh Long Comments

AT&T is in a battle royal with smaller wireless carriers over legislation that would limit the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to conduct auctions for wireless spectrum in a manner that the agency sees fit.

In a letter submitted on Wednesday to some members of Congress, AT&T's rival Sprint and several other wireless operators – including the carrier AT&T failed to buy, T-Mobile USA – raised concerns over language contained in a mammoth bill that would extend payroll tax cuts for Americans.

"Stripping the FCC of its auction design discretion would disserve the public interest by permitting unchecked participation by the two largest, best-funded carriers in the future spectrum auctions," stated the letter, referring to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. "That would discourage smaller competitors from participating in future auctions thereby reducing auction revenues and limiting wireless competition and innovation."

In a blog posting Wednesday, AT&T's Jim Cicconi asserted that any company should have the right to bid on any spectrum that is available in an auction.

"This group, however, wants the FCC to stack the deck in its favor," wrote Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.

"These companies should be prepared to compete in a fair and open auction," he added, "and should stop seeking a rigged spectrum auction that would harm consumers and cost the Treasury billions."

The head of an organization that represents Sprint and other companies that compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless raised concerns that the nation's two largest wireless operators would be in a position to buy all the spectrum available on the market if the FCC is deprived of authority to place terms and conditions on auctions.

"If the FCC couldn't split the licenses and limit the amount of spectrum that each person could give in a market on a license, then you'll have two bidders buying two national licenses," said Steven Berry, president and CEO of RCA - The Competitive Carriers Association, in a telephone interview. Wireless operators, Berry added, "will tell you spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless world. The best way to eliminate your competition is to make sure they become spectrum starved."

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