CCA members celebrate 700 MHz interoperability, plot next policy priorities

Sue Marek

LAS VEGAS--Competitive Carriers Association members had a lot to celebrate this week at their annual conference here. With AT&T's recent decision to support 700 MHz interoperability and start adding Band Class 12-capable devices to its portfolio, many CCA members will finally be able to build out spectrum that previously was unusable due to their inability to get the right equipment and devices.

Mignon Clyburn, acting chairwoman of the FCC, is widely credited by many CCA members for forcing a resolution to the 700 MHz interoperability issue. When Clyburn gave her keynote address at the conference Tuesday morning, CCA members greeted her with a standing ovation. "I love challenges," Clyburn said. "I am not intimidated by long odds."

But with that major obstacle behind them, CCA members are now turning their attention to the next big policy issues that they must battle. First among them is the upcoming 600 MHz broadcast incentive auction, which is viewed by many as one of the few opportunities in the foreseeable future for operators to actually secure a significant amount of spectrum below 1 GHz.

CCA members clearly don't want another interoperability debacle such as what occurred in the 700 MHz auction and are therefore advocating for an interoperability requirement in the auction.

During a panel discussion on the incentive auction, Tom Sugrue, vice president of government affairs at T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS), said that T-Mobile supports interoperability and believes that a random assignment of licenses would be one way to solve the issue. "No one carrier could pick out one block and create a band class," Sugrue said.

To that end, T-Mobile recently teamed with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), an admittedly unlikely bedfellow, to jointly submit a letter urging the FCC to adopt a band plan for the 600 MHz auction that they said will maximize paired spectrum available for auction, allow timely development of network equipment and devices, facilitate a single band class so there is interoperability across all paired blocks of spectrum in 600 MHz, and allocate for supplemental downlink any unpaired spectrum not needed to protect the 600 MHz band from interference.

Of course, there are other issues facing CCA members besides upcoming auction rules. Steve Berry, president and CEO of the CCA, noted that many of the association's Tier 2 members such as MetroPCS (which was acquired by T-Mobile) and Leap Wireless (which is in the process of being acquired by AT&T) are disappearing, creating a bigger gap between the Tier 1 operators (which have tens of millions of customers) and the Tier 3 operators, which typically have fewer than 1 million customers. 

Nevertheless, Berry believes that the CCA membership is strong. "We still are the glue of the competitive policies that hold people together," he said. And he noted that the group's two largest members, T-Mobile and Sprint (NYSE:S), both recognize that they have become the "go-to" partners of choice for the smaller operators. "So far, they recognize that with a collective approach they can fill out the [coverage] map," Berry said.

Though the gap between Tier 1 operators and Tier 3 operators is widening, CCA continues to fill a much-needed role in keeping smaller operator interests at the forefront of the regulatory world. And with the recent 700 MHz interoperability win, it appears that CCA definitely has the ear of top officials at the commission --Sue