Sprint wary of Verizon's proposal to loosen anti-collusion rule in upcoming auction

Sprint (NYSE:S) said the FCC should "carefully scrutinize" Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) proposal to narrow the scope of the agency's anti-collusion regulations for bidding in spectrum auctions.

In recent filings with the FCC discussing rules for the agency's upcoming AWS-3 spectrum auction, Sprint said there are merits to Verizon's proposal. "Given the extraordinary complexity of the incentive auction, the Commission might reasonably consider proposals to revise bidding procedures to facilitate participation by smaller bidders otherwise deterred from participation," Sprint wrote.

But Sprint cautioned that rules allowing auction bidders to share their bidding plans with industry-setting bodies, network equipment suppliers or handset vendors could provide cover for "anti-competitive behavior--for instance, through the formulation of 'boutique band classes.'"

"Sprint urges the Commission to carefully consider Verizon's proposal to radically relax anti-collusion rules within the context of the AWS-3 auction," the carrier said, adding that it supports a proposal that the FCC require auction winners to create interoperable networks.

Verizon earlier this year proposed that the FCC "narrow" its anti-collusion rules for its upcoming AWS-3 auction. Under current laws, "companies are now forced to weigh the significant costs of putting unrelated, conventional business negotiations on hold for months at a time against the potential advantages of auction participation," Verizon wrote. "Some firms have likely foregone participation in auctions because the substantial burdens on routine business outweigh the potential benefits of auction participation. These uncertainties place undue limits on routine business discussions, impose significant costs, and the Commission should take this opportunity to narrow the scope of the rule."

Verizon suggested the rules be narrowed to allow discussions between carriers about roaming and interconnection, for example, as long as the discussions won't give away bidding strategies. Verizon also urged the FCC to allow discussions about "generic technical handset and network issues," and to shorten the period that the anti-collusion rules are in effect.

The debate over the FCC's anti-collusion rules is just one of a long list of issues that the FCC must make a ruling on before it can begin auctioning AWS-3 spectrum. The agency is scheduled to auction AWS-3--in the in the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, 2020-2025 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands--by February 2015.

The agency, which just this week landed Tom Wheeler as its new chairman, is also slated to auction the 1900 MHz PCS H Block and the incentive auctions of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum.

For more:
- see Sprint's FCC filing (PDF)
- see Verizon's initial FCC filing (PDF)

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