T-Mobile gets a little closer to accessing its 2.5 GHz spectrum from Auction 108

Last Friday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-La.) 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act, requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to release the 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses that were sold in Auction 108. The SALE Act now moves to the House of Representatives.

The FCC has not been able to process the nearly 8,000 2.5 GHz licenses that were auctioned because in the intervening time between when the auction concluded and when the FCC began to process the licenses Congress allowed the FCC’s auction authority to lapse.

The 5G SALE Act will temporarily grant the FCC the auction authority it needs to complete the spectrum transfers.

Although the SALE Act doesn’t specifically mention T-Mobile, the Seattle-based carrier won the vast majority of the 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses, and it will be the main beneficiary of the Act.

“My 5G SALE Act provides Americans with access to broadband by giving the FCC the authority to finish transferring previously auctioned spectrum to companies that offer 5G coverage,” stated Kennedy. “The House should move quickly to send this bill to the president’s desk.”

T-Mobile has been doing everything in its power to gain access to the 2.5 GHz spectrum that it won in Auction 108 and already paid for. The Un-Carrier filed a petition with the FCC for special temporary authority to use the spectrum. And company executives have blogged and spoken publicly imploring the FCC to release the licenses.

Lawsuit with WCO Spectrum

The situation with the FCC and its loss of spectrum auction authority isn’t the only battle-front for T-Mobile in regard to its 2.5 GHz spectrum.

Earlier this summer, the company filed a lawsuit against the investment company WCO Spectrum. WCO has been approaching schools — which lease 2.5 GHz spectrum to T-Mobile — offering to purchase their licenses.

T-Mobile claims that WCO’s offers to schools are not bona fide offers but rather “sham” offers designed by WCO to receive kickbacks from the schools.

Last week, WCO was due to file its Answer to T-Mobile’s Complaint. But instead, WCO filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking to have the entire case thrown out.

Among its legal arguments for why the lawsuit should be dismissed, WCO states, “T-Mobile’s allegations inevitably fall short for a very simple reason….If T-Mobile believed WCO had no plans to buy spectrum licenses, its remedy would be simple: call WCO’s bluff and stop blocking the purchases.”

Although the parties have been fighting over T-Mobile’s spectrum leases and reaching out to the schools that own the 2.5 GHz licenses, nothing material has actually changed in the past couple of years.

WCO has only made progress with one school — Owasso Public School District in Oklahoma — in terms of purchasing its spectrum license after T-Mobile declined to exercise its right of first refusal. But that deal has not closed.

Jordan Korphage, director of communications with Owasso Public Schools, told Fierce Wireless that WCO first reached out to the district in September 2021 about buying its spectrum license. And a deal was struck for WCO to pay $5.39 million plus $75,000.00 in related legal or administrative fees.

But the transaction fell apart in January 2023 because “The district did not receive final approval from the FCC within the timeframe set by WCO,” said Korphage.

He said there is no agreement of any kind between Owasso Public Schools and WCO Spectrum at this time. But Korphage added, “I want to be clear that the district has no animosity toward WCO Spectrum at all. Should there be a mutually beneficial transaction available in the future, we would certainly be open to that.”