AT&T wants a 'realistic' repacking schedule for FCC's upcoming 600 MHz incentive spectrum auction

AT&T (NYSE: T) said it wants a "realistic" schedule for repacking spectrum following the FCC's upcoming incentive auction of TV broadcasters' 600 MHz spectrum, signaling it would be willing to extend the deadline for the program beyond 39 months, Bloomberg BNA reported.

Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory affairs, said the carrier is more concerned with seeing "an efficient, rational, effective transition plan" than it is with sticking to the current deadline. "If we can get it done in 39 months, then we're all for it," she told attendees at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference.

But it's more important to develop a realistic, efficient transition plan that provides incentives for broadcasters to transition quickly and gives AT&T a clear picture of when it can gain access to the spectrum, she said.

The repacking period allows broadcasters to vacate the spectrum so the airwaves may be reshuffled for use that won't interfere with other services. Marsh noted that "there's nothing on the record that supports" the time frame adopted by the FCC, and indeed the deadline has been the source of contention in recent months: The National Association of Broadcasters has repeatedly requested a schedule be developed after the auction so the FCC knows exactly how many stations must move to which channels. The Competitive Carriers Association responded by saying the 39-month timeline "is reasonable and should be re-affirmed."

AT&T has run simulations that suggest 1,200 TV stations will need to be repacked in the lower 600 MHz band following the auction. Up to 30 percent of remaining broadcasters will be able to maintain their current channel assignment, AT&T has said, but roughly 850 will be given a new channel assignment following the auction and will then need "to either retune or move to that new assignment."

Regardless of whether the 39-month timeline stands, AT&T's continued interest in the FCC's policies indicate it may be a very active player in the auction. It will spend as much as $10 billion on a 2x10 MHz block of spectrum with nationwide capability, financial analysts at Wells Fargo recently predicted, outspending T-Mobile (which is expected to spend $8 billion) and Verizon ($5 billion).

Sprint has said it will not participate in the auction. Meanwhile, Comcast said this week it will participate but doesn't expect to spend much.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg BNA report

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