FCC approves AT&T-Aloha spectrum deal

AT&T has won approval from the Federal Communications Commission to purchase wireless spectrum licenses totaling $2.5 billion from privately-held Aloha Partners, parent firm of DVB-H-based mobile broadcast TV service Hiwire. In voting 4-to-1 in favor of the purchase, the FCC said the deal for the spectrum, which covers 196 million potential customers in 281 markets, will "serve the public interest" and is unlikely to harm competition. AT&T cannot formally consummate the sale until it reimburses the government for a 35 percent small business discount Aloha received on spectrum acquired at FCC auctions.

FCC commissioner Michael Copps cast the lone dissenting vote. In a statement posted on the FCC website, he writes "[the] order contains only an extremely abbreviated analysis of the competitive effects of this change in ownership. Instead, we have a rush to judgment that seems hard to square with the FCC's statutory duty to promote competition in the wireless marketplace and diverse ownership of spectrum licenses... Because today's hasty decision seems destined to reduce competition and diversity in the wireless marketplace, and because I see little demonstration of countervailing benefits and precious little serious analysis of any sort, I must respectfully dissent."

AT&T agreed to purchase Aloha's spectrum portfolio in October 2007. Providence, RI-based Aloha was a dominant player in the FCC's 2001 and 2003 700 MHz auctions, and subsequently acquired several other firms with 700 MHz spectrum rights. Prior to the AT&T deal, Aloha owned 12 MHz of spectrum in all of its markets, spanning 85 percent of the population in the top 50 U.S. markets. As recently as mid-September, Aloha continued its spectrum shopping spree, acquiring 31 licenses in the lower 700 MHz band from station group LIN TV Corp. for $32.5 million in cash. -Jason

For more on the FCC ruling:
- read this Providence Journal article