The FCC’s new chairman, Tom Wheeler, on Monday gave a strong indication that he might support limiting big carriers like AT&T and Verizon from amassing huge amounts of 600 MHz spectrum, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The statement by was welcomed by T-Mobile US and Sprint, both of which are hoping to use 600 Mhz spectrum to beef up their networks. The low frequencies can travel up to three times further than the 2 GHz PCS/AWS spectrum which Sprint and T-Mobile use predominantly.
AT&T and Verizon already own the bulk of the 700 MHz band which enabled them to provide nation-wide LTE service. Smaller carriers believed the duopoly could further dominate the emerging 600 MHz band and effectively shut them out.
“Spectrum is finite, and the FCC is charged with managing the airwaves that are used for commercial purposes,” Mr. Wheeler said Monday in a speech in Columbus, Ohio. “A key goal of our spectrum-allocation efforts is ensuring that multiple carriers have access to airwaves needed to operate their networks.”
The Justice Department argued T-Mobile and Sprint need low-band spectrum in order to compete with AT&T and Verizon.
A Justice Department suit in 2011 led AT&T to scuttle its bid to buy T-Mobile, preserving four nationwide U.S. carriers. Mr. Wheeler suggested he favored that situation, saying the mobile business with four carriers “is a competitive business and important to stay that way.”
“It’s because of the F.C.C. that you have multiple competitive choices for your mobile phone service,” said Wheeler. He noted that since the successful effort by the F.C.C. and the Justice Department to stop AT&T’s takeover bid of T-Mobile in 2011, T-Mobile and Sprint had attracted “significant investment capital to build out their networks and increase competition.”
The FCC is leading a process expected to take at least through next year in which certain television stations will relinquish their airwaves so they can be sold to wireless carriers.
Mr. Wheeler’s comments weren’t a definitive statement of his plans for the auction but strongly suggested that he supported some sort of cap for the two largest carriers. He declined to elaborate when a moderator pressed him after the speech, saying only, “It is the No. 1 issue that I’ve been working on.”