Verizon facing more opposition to Straight Path spectrum purchase

Straight Path spectrum maps from Allnet (Allnet)
In maps created last year, Allnet Insights & Analytics offered a look at some of Straight Path's spectrum holdings. (Allnet Insights & Analytics)

T-Mobile and the Competitive Carriers Association are working to turn up the heat on the FCC and Verizon in their efforts to block Verizon’s purchase of Straight Path’s millimeter-wave spectrum holdings.

The ongoing dispute could have significant implications for the nation’s transition to 5G network technology, including which carriers will be able to use which spectrum bands for their 5G deployments.

In the association’s latest comments, the CCA argues that the FCC did not conduct a fair proceeding to evaluate Verizon’s purchase of Straight Path’s spectrum licenses. The association, which represents roughly 100 smaller wireless network operators including T-Mobile and Sprint, also argued that the FCC should have taken back Straight Path’s spectrum licenses—and then auctioned off those licenses—rather than allowing Verizon to acquire the company, since Straight Path did not meet the FCC’s spectrum build-out requirements.

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“Verizon’s acquisition of Straight Path’s millimeter wave (mmW) spectrum has the potential to cause significant harm to consumers and competition by excessively concentrating holdings of mmW spectrum and foreclosing competition in these bands,” the CCA wrote in its most recent filing with the FCC. “This transaction, together with Verizon’s acquisition of Nextlink’s mmW license, spectrum returned to Verizon from the canceled Vivint leases, and AT&T’s acquisition of FiberTower’s mmW spectrum, concentrates mmW spectrum holdings in the hands of the two dominant wireless carriers, making it all but impossible for genuine 5G competition to develop.”

In a recent filing on the topic, T-Mobile too argued that the FCC shouldn’t have approved Verizon’s purchase of Straight Path. T-Mobile also said the FCC’s new 1850 MHz threshold for spectrum ownership, which it applied to the Verizon-Straight Path transaction, shouldn’t have been imposed without notice or the chance for companies to comment on it.

“Specifically, to remedy the harm from the Verizon-Straight Path transaction, the Commission should grant CCA’s Application for Review, deny the transaction, return Straight Path’s licenses to the Commission’s inventory, and make the spectrum available for competitive bidding at auction,” T-Mobile wrote.

The positions by CCA and T-Mobile are not necessarily surprisingly. Both compete fiercely against Verizon and AT&T, and T-Mobile specifically has loudly indicated its interest in acquiring additional millimeter-wave spectrum for its pending deployment of 5G technology. Although millimeter-wave spectrum of the type that Straight Path owned has been historically ignored by the wireless industry, new network technologies in the 5G standard promise to allow wireless operators to deploy superfast services in the radio waves.

Verizon, for its part, has issued arguments against T-Mobile and the CCA, saying in part that the FCC’s approval of its purchase of Straight Path’s spectrum will allow it to more quickly deploy 5G technology. “Attempting to stop the transaction would impede Verizon’s ability to deliver 5G to the public and advance U.S. leadership in the race to 5G,” Verizon wrote in its recent filing. “And, as the Commission has noted, the public interest is served by a robust secondary market that allows transactions like this.”

CCA has been pushing against Verizon’s purchase of Straight Path—and AT&T’s purchase of FiberTower’s millimeter-wave spectrum licenses—for much of the past year. But the association has accelerated its efforts in recent months, arguing that the transactions would essentially allocate 80% of the MHz-POPs in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands to the nation’s two largest carriers.

Importantly, a growing chorus of voices are joining CCA in raising concerns about the transaction, including FiberTower shareholders and legislators including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

The FCC, for its part, has argued that its actions are fair and that the transactions will help speed the United States’ rollout of 5G technology, a key part of the Trump administration’s efforts to compete with China.

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