RTG urges FCC to deny AT&T's purchase of Windstream's 700 MHz licenses

In a fiery filing with the FCC, the Rural Telecommunications Group lambasted AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) proposed purchased of six 700 MHz C Block licenses in Pennsylvania from regional telecom firm Windstream, arguing that the transaction would squeeze smaller competitors out of the markets. Specifically, RTG called for the FCC to impose a spectrum ownership cap, as well as require AT&T to provide data roaming services.

RTG argued AT&T's proposed transaction would "drastically reduce the number of potential roaming partners for rural carriers and the rural consumers they serve and further consolidate the already scarce amount of spectrum below 2.3 GHz into the hands of the nation's second largest mobile operator while simultaneously removing yet another potential competitor in rural markets that are already heavily-consolidated," the group wrote in its filing. "This transaction is further proof of a mobile wireless marketplace slowly devolving into a duopoly at the expense of rural mobile consumers."

To underscore its argument, RTG said that, if the FCC approves AT&T's transaction, "AT&T and Verizon Wireless will control all of the paired spectrum in the lower 700 MHz band" in three of the six Pennsylvania markets included in the deal.

RTG used the issue to reinforce its position on several topics it is pushing at the FCC. RTG said that if the commission does approve AT&T's purchase of Windstream's licenses, it should impose conditions including prohibiting exclusivity agreements between carriers and device manufacturers, requiring all devices in the lower 700 MHz band be fully interoperable on all blocks within that band, and extend automatic roaming obligations to data services.

Interestingly, RTG also used the situation to reiterate its call for a hard spectrum cap: That spectrum licensees control no more than 110 MHz below 2.3 GHz.

Earlier this month AT&T filed a petition with the FCC to acquire Windstream's six licenses, spectrum the carrier plans to use for its HSPA and LTE networks. The companies did not disclose the financial details of their transaction.

The issue comes on the heels of AT&T's proposed purchased Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) 700 MHz FLO TV spectrum for $1.9 billion, which also is awaiting FCC approval. RTG urged the FCC to impose similar conditions on that transaction.

For more:
- see this RTG filing (PDF)

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