Battle for 600 MHz: Spectrum Aggregation Limits?

Sprint, T-Mobile US, Dish Network and other smaller carriers are lobbying new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to ensure rules that let them get access to 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum in the forthcoming incentive (TV) auctions, notes Fierce Wireless.

Spectrum reallocation will make available as much as 120 Mhz of UHF tv frequencies from Ch 31 to Ch 51.

Smaller broadcasters willing to sell their channel could then piggyback on a competitor’s “dot” channel, freeing up spectrum for resale. Broadcasters would get a kickback. Much of that UHF spectrum is currently taken up by “junk” satellite-fed Low Power TV stations run by investor groups.

In a letter to Wheeler on Thursday (pdf), those companies, as well as executives from U.S. Cellular, C Spire Wireless, Bluegrass Cellular, Cellular One, the Competitive Carriers Association and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — urged Wheeler to adopt rules to ensure “that the two dominant wireless incumbents not be allowed to lock competitive carriers out of acquiring low-band spectrum in the upcoming 600 MHz auction.”

“AT&T and Verizon already hold licenses for nearly 80 percent of the low-band spectrum available for commercial broadband use,” the executives wrote. “They have economic incentives to acquire the remaining low-band spectrum in the 600 MHz band to stop our companies–their competitors–from offering truly sustainable, competitive wireless broadband service across America.”

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have repeatedly said limits on how much spectrum they can acquire in the auction will limit how much revenue the auction generates and will amount to picking winners and losers.

“To be clear, none of us has ever suggested excluding the largest two carriers from the 600 MHz auction. Reasonable spectrum-aggregation limits, however, will help ensure that carriers of all sizes have a meaningful opportunity to acquire the low-band spectrum they need to sustain effective and efficient competition,” wrote the smaller carriers in their letter to the FCC.

The best-case scenario the FCC is hoping for is for broadcasters to give up 120 MHz of spectrum, but that will largely be determined by how much money broadcasters think they can get.

One fact that rarely gets mentioned is that broadcasters haven’t paid one dime to the Treasury for their spectrum. They were given their spectrum by taxpayers. Group owners subsequently traded that spectrum over the years and made fortunes.

The FCC plans to do a reverse auction first where it would try to get broadcasters to give up their spectrum. Then the agency will quickly repackage that spectrum into nationwide chunks that it would then offer to operators. The FCC might net between 60 and 80 megahertz if it’s lucky.

If Verizon and AT&T both purchased 20-30 MHz, competitors fear the “duopoly” will dominate mobile communications. That’s because the 600 MHz band can travel up to 3 times further than the 1.9 GHz PCS band. It’s a big competitive advantage.

AT&T and Verizon may be willing to pay big bucks to keep competitors out of the sub-1 GHz band. Tea Party Republicans tend to support the “free enterprise” thrust of AT&T and Verizon while Democrats tend to support spectrum-aggregation limits on the two big carriers. They say telecommunications is too important to the economy for a duopoly to dominate the landscape.

The FCC opened the UHF spectrum for television broadcasting in 1952, but tv sets were not required to have UHF tuners. The DuMont Television Network was a pioneer television network, rivaling NBC and CBS. It was owned by DuMont Laboratories, a television equipment and set manufacturer and partner Paramount Pictures. DuMont began in 1946 and ceased broadcasting in 1956.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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