AT&T taps Dish AWS-4 spectrum in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands for COVID-19 response

The FCC has been moving swiftly to grant carriers access to additional spectrum during the COVID-19 crisis. (Getty Images)

Dish Networks continues to lend out its spectrum resources to carriers so they can bolster capacity during the COVID-19 crisis, this week opening access to AT&T to support broadband needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday granted AT&T’s Special Temporary Authority (STA) request, authorizing the carrier to utilize Dish’s AWS-4 spectrum for 60 days on the islands at no cost.

RELATED: Dish lends spectrum to AT&T during COVID-19 pandemic

The agency said the access to the additional spectrum will help AT&T meet expected bumps in network traffic from more Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands working from home and practicing social distance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Staying connected while staying apart is the reality right now across America during this pandemic, and that is no less true for those living in Puerto Rico and U.S Virgin Islands,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “We have put a special emphasis on helping those on the islands stay connected following the terrible storms that hit them in recent years.  And we continue that work today in a new kind of emergency.  I thank DISH for consenting to this use of its spectrum and to the U.S. Department of Justice for its cooperation.”

RELATED: FCC gives WISPs access to 5.9 GHz for COVID-19 response

AT&T in October announced plans to sell its wireless and wireline operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Liberty Latin America for $1.95 billion. The all-cash deal included spectrum and real estate, as well as some 1.1 million wireless subscribers. The sale doesn’t include AT&T’s FirstNet public safety communications commitment on the islands.

Liberty Latin America CEO Balan Nair, speaking on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in late February, said the provider expected the AT&T deal to close in the second quarter 2020, at which time Liberty will start integrating AT&T’s assets. It’s unclear if the ongoing pandemic will have any impact on timing of the close.

On the spectrum front, Dish has been quick to open up its portfolio amid the current public health crisis, already lending its full 600 MHz spectrum holdings to T-Mobile, as well as 20 MHz of its AWS-4 and all of its 700 MHz to AT&T. 

RELATED: T-Mobile herds 600 MHz spectrum from other providers for COVID-19 response

Carriers are moving fast in terms of putting that spectrum into use. T-Mobile deployed the 600 MHz spectrum loaned from Dish and others, including Comcast, in less than a week, according to a recent analysis by LightShed Partners.

Analyzing data from Opensignal, the firm found T-Mobile more than doubled the amount of 600 MHz spectrum deployed for LTE in the top 100 markets to 20 MHz on average, and even quadrupled deployments to 40 MHz in markets like New York, Boston and Salt Lake City.

LightShed analysts Walter Piecyk and Joe Galone wrote Tuesday that they believe Dish has cleared 75% of its spectrum for use.  

The FCC too has moved swiftly to grant STAs to carriers in the last weeks, also authorizing Verizon and U.S. Cellular to tap additional spectrum. On Friday, the FCC granted 33 wireless internet service providers (WISPs) permission to use 45 MHz of 5.9 GHz spectrum in order to meet increased broadband needs of  thousands of Americans in 29 states.