The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) has deepened its drumbeat on limiting the amount of next-generation spectrum that the top wireless operators are allowed to consolidate. In a Petition to Deny filed with the FCC, the group encouraged the commission to block Verizon’s $3.1 billion buy of Straight Path Communications’ large set of millimeter wave licenses and instead put them up for auction.
Verizon is set to acquire Local Multipoint Distribution Service, 39 GHz, 3650-3700 MHz and common carrier fixed point-to-point microwave licenses from Straight Path for $3.1 billion. These airwaves at the uppermost portion of the spectrum chart are widely seen as critical for building out 5G wireless service, because they can provide 100 MHz to 500 MHz of spectrum using a single radio, with blistering speeds—making them ideal for future bandwidth-intensive applications that would chew up a good chunk of today’s in-use spectrum.
The CCA said that the extent of the holdings would exceed the FCC’s spectrum screen in key local markets, and that allowing Verizon to acquire such a large amount of high-band spectrum could thwart competitive carriers’ efforts to deploy next-generation technologies in some of the most rural and remote areas of the United States.
“Industry consolidation is a huge concern for competitive carriers, and a transaction of this magnitude would no doubt have a negative impact on competition and consumers,” said CCA President and CEO Steven Berry in a statement. “Millimeter wave spectrum will be essential to the rollout of next-generation wireless networks …Ultimately, [Verizon’s dominance] will result in poorer service quality, reduced output and reduced innovation that plague insufficiently competitive markets, and higher rates for consumers."
The CCA has long opposed the snapping up of millimeter wave holdings by the dominant U.S. mobile operators. In March, it filed a petition with the FCC urging it to auction FiberTower’s 650 licenses that previously were terminated. AT&T would like to acquire all of FiberTower’s assets, including 24 GHz and 39 GHz licenses for 5G services. Under the proposed deal, AT&T would get control of 39 GHz licenses covering about 99.8% of the U.S. population, according to the FCC's preliminary review.
It also waded in when Verizon announced that it would move on its option to acquire additional 28 GHz airwaves from NextLink, which was part of Verizon’s acquisition of XO Communications back in February. In a Motion for Consolidation, it has asked the FCC to review both the Straight Path and NextLink deals as one, so that the commission can gain a more holistic view of the competitive impact of spectrum consolidation as a whole.
“The Commission should look at the big picture here,” Berry said. “With the proposed Verizon/Straight Path, the Verizon/Nextlink, and the AT&T/FiberTower transactions all currently on the table, there is a real risk of harming the public interest and preventing competitors from the opportunity to acquire valuable spectrum resources. The economy and the American taxpayer would benefit from a competitive bidding process for the Straight Path licenses, and I strongly encourage the Commission to deny the proposed Verizon/Straight Path application.”