Dish Network, smaller cellular operators oppose AT&T's acquisition of Qualcomm's 700 MHz licenses

Opposition is mounting against AT&T's (NYSE:T) proposal to purchase 11 licenses in the lower 700 MHz block from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) for $1.9 billion.

In addition to public interest groups, Dish Network, Cellular South and the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) are asking the FCC to block AT&T's purchase of the spectrum, which once carried Qualcomm's failed MediaFlo TV service.

"The Commission should deny the Applications because entrusting additional beachfront spectrum to AT&T would cause irreparable harm to competition and consumers," the RCA said. "In a market that is teetering dangerously on the brink of true duopoly, the Commission should not tip the balance further."

AT&T and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) are the majority owners of 700 MHz spectrum in the U.S. AT&T's acquisition of Qualcomm's licenses would give it additional spectrum in larger markets such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Qualcomm's licenses in the 700 MHz D and E blocks cover more than 300 million people and would give AT&T between 6 and 80 megahertz of spectrum below 1 GHz in its bigger markets. AT&T has said it will use the unpaired spectrum for additional capacity in its planned LTE network.

Dish Network has requested that the FCC either block the deal or require AT&T to divest some of its markets as a condition of the acquisition. Cellular South, wounded by the lack of mandated roaming for the 700 MHz band, wants the FCC to block the acquisition or at least mandate data roaming agreements and prevent AT&T from what Cellular South called "anticompetitive 700 MHz equipment design and procurement practices."

Free Press, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Consumers Union and the New America Foundation have argued in a joint filing that AT&T's application for the 700 MHz holdings "ignores facts that clearly demonstrate that this transaction will limit competition and harm consumers."

AT&T has until March 21 to file a response to the petitions with the FCC.

AT&T has been making regional acquisitions of 700 MHz spectrum as well. In February, the operator asked the FCC to approve a purchase of some 700 MHz spectrum licenses in Washington from privately-held Whidbey Telephone Company so that it can boost 2G and 3G service. AT&T said it wants the spectrum to augment network capacity and that the fresh batch of airwaves "will facilitate the provision of additional products and services to the public in these markets as well as the continued deployment of GSM/EDGE and HSDPA/UMTS technologies."

AT&T made a similar filing with the FCC in January, asking the FCC to approve its deal for six 700 MHz licenses from regional telecom firm Windstream. The six Windstream licenses each include 6 MHz of paired spectrum, and are adjacent to--but not part of--the 700 MHz licenses that the FCC auctioned for close to $20 billion in 2008. AT&T purchased around $6.6 billion worth of airwaves during that auction.

For more:
- see this Wireless Week article

Related articles:
AT&T hunts for more 700 MHz spectrum to boost 2G, 3G capacity
AT&T scores 700 MHz spectrum for 3G, 4G from Windstream
AT&T accelerates LTE deployment, will launch 20 4G devices this year
AT&T buys Qualcomm's FLO TV spectrum for $1.93B
Sprint, AT&T exchange spectrum

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