AT&T wants FCC to keep a cap on 5G spectrum deals targeting T-Mobile and Verizon

AT&T said it asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to add a special screening or cap for spectrum that could be used to build 5G networks.
AT&T campaignAT&T’s blog post announcing the petition did not reveal the likely impact on main rivals such as T-Mobile and Verizon if FCC decided to adopt the proposal.

That’s because those players have added significant mid-band spectrum holdings, which are considered optimal for building out a 5G wireless network. T-Mobile gained significant spectrum through its highly-contested acquisition of Sprint, and Verizon won a large chunk of spectrum licenses in a closely-watched auction earlier this year.

AT&T has made some gains, but significant debt has weighed down the company. That’s why an additional screen for mid-band spectrum sales could be particularly beneficial for AT&T, which does not want to get locked out of race for 5G coverage.

AT&T said the FCC should adopt a mid-band screen for all allocations between 2.5 GHz and 6 GHz for all future spectrum acquisitions (except for those that result from Auction 110, for which the rules are already final). FCC did this for sub-1 GHz spectrum.

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s executive vice president for federal regulatory relations, wrote in the blog post that a mid-band spectrum screen would be similar to those already in place for other types of spectrum. She added that it would not cap the total amount of spectrum a company could hold.

Instead, it would give the agency an opportunity to look more closely for possible harms to competition. Marsh said a screen would be triggered when a spectrum acquisition would give a single entity more than a third of relevant frequencies in a given market area.

AT&T said a spectrum screen is not a cap on how much spectrum any entity can hold. It is a filter that the FCC can use to identify spectrum acquisitions that trigger more detailed consideration of the potential for competitive harms. The screen allows the FCC to identify acquisitions that may raise competitive concerns from those which do not.

“If a spectrum acquisition would result in a single entity holding more than a third of the relevant frequencies in a market area, the screen is triggered, and the FCC will conduct a more fulsome inquiry into whether the acquisition will harm competition,” AT&T said.

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