AT&T is urging the FCC to approve the transfer of hundreds of 27 GHz and 39 GHz licenses from FiberTower to AT&T, citing the FCC’s recent settlement with Straight Path Communications as being consistent with such an approach.
AT&T agreed to acquire all of FiberTower’s assets back in January, including licenses that are the subject of a pending remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.
FiberTower filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection back in 2012, and the FCC in 2014 deemed that it did not demonstrate it had deployed a service substantial enough to meet FCC buildout requirements.
The upshot is a bunch of FiberTower’s licenses are in legal limbo.
In filings at the FCC, AT&T set forth arguments as to why the FCC should both resolve the D.C. Circuit court’s remand by granting FiberTower’s requests for waivers, renewing all of its licenses and approving the transfer of licenses to AT&T. After all, the operator argued, the qualifications of AT&T to hold and control commission licenses are matters of public record and AT&T will be able to put the licenses to work in an expedited manner, all the while contributing to the advancement of 5G services.
Ironically, the loss of business from AT&T is one of the reasons FiberTower found itself in bankruptcy. As one of the country’s largest providers of backhaul, the San Francisco-based FiberTower had partnerships with large tower operators in the U.S. and customer commitments from the likes of AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless. However, the company was hit with service terminations for some backhaul services from AT&T and other customers that led to its falling revenues, Law360 reported.
AT&T currently notes that FiberTower holds interests in 738 24 GHz and 39 GHz licenses, and the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) records indicate that 88 of those licenses are “active” wireless licenses in the 24 and 39 GHz bands. Forty-six of those licenses shown as “active” were renewed by the commission in 2012, and the remainder are subject to the recent remand by the D.C. Circuit.
“AT&T is well-positioned to fully utilize the FiberTower spectrum for the high-bandwidth, high-capacity revolutionary 5G services that consumers are eagerly awaiting,” the operator told the commission (PDF), adding that initial lab trials have already achieved speeds of up to 14 gigabits per second over a wireless connection and have validated industry expectations for 5G latency.
“AT&T’s demonstrated commitment to making the promise of 5G a reality makes it well-suited to acquire FiberTower’s 24 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum,” the carrier said. “AT&T is ready, able and willing to push industry to promptly develop standards and equipment for the bands and the company will work tirelessly to put a thriving ecosystem in place to maximize the 24 and 39 GHz spectrum for innovative 5G use cases.”
AT&T also referenced the commission’s recent action related to Straight Path, where the commission determined that even though Straight Path had not actually deployed equipment with any permanency, its licenses should not be automatically terminated. The commission determined that Straight Path should retain about 80% of its licenses with the expectation that Straight Path would attempt to sell its portfolio to a third party within 12 months. (Some observers speculate that AT&T is a good candidate to buy Straight Path’s licenses.)
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AT&T said the same 5G policy considerations that led the FCC to allow Straight Path to keep the majority of its licenses apply with even greater force to its own case.
“By renewing FiberTower’s licenses pursuant to the D.C. Circuit remand as part of this transaction, the Commission would avoid the potential for further litigation that could tie up FiberTower’s spectrum and prevent its use for 5G,” AT&T stated. “As it did in the Straight Path matter, the Commission should instead act quickly to resolve the ongoing litigation in a way that would make the spectrum immediately deployable for 5G. When it comes to 5G, time is of the essence. The Commission should lift the ‘regulatory bottleneck’ surrounding FiberTower’s licenses and unleash the spectrum for 5G use.”