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AT & T Eyes More 700 MHz spectrum

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 8:25am
Andrew Berg, Wireless Week

AT&T is looking to acquire more 700 MHz spectrum. Shareholders of Redwood 700 Inc. and AT&T Inc. today filed an application seeking consent from the FCC to transfer control of 22 lower 700 MHz B and C Block licenses currently held by Redwood Wireless Corp.

As a result, Redwood 700 will become a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of AT&T, and Redwood Wireless will remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of Redwood 700 and also become a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of AT&T.

The proposed transfer of control involves licenses covering 72 counties in 17 cellular market areas (CMA) in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The applicants state that the additional spectrum will enable AT&T to increase its system capacity to enhance existing services, better accommodate its overall growth and facilitate the provision of additional products and services to the public in these 17 CMAs in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

This is just the latest in AT&T's recent buying spree. The carrier recently applied to buy a lower 700 MHz B Block license from Knology covering Lawrence, Kan., and a lower 700 MHz C Block license from 700 MHz, LLC in an area of Worcester, Mass.

The idea of AT&T buying more spectrum in any case has been met by strong opposition from the Rural Cellular Association (RCA), which has continued to raise concerns about the effect such purchases would have on smaller rural carriers.

"Further consolidation in the wireless industry will harm competition and innovation, and it will do nothing to benefit consumers, especially in rural and hard-to-reach areas," wrote the RCA in a statement, adding that "continuing down the path toward consolidation also could force many small businesses across the nation to close their doors, which will result in lost jobs."

AT&T has been under scrutiny lately for how it using its existing spectrum, particularly in relation to its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA, which it contends will alleviate some of the carrier's need for more spectrum.

During a May 11 Senate Judiciary hearing on the proposed merger, AT&T's Randall Stephenson said the carrier estimates that in 2015 the company will carry the same amount of mobile data traffic by mid-February that it carried for the entire year in 2010. 

Sprint's CEO, Dan Hesse, responded by saying that while AT&T has the largest, licensed spectrum holdings of any wireless carrier, it does not use that spectrum efficiently. Hesse claims fully 40 MHz of AT&T's spectrum is stockpiled for future services such as LTE. As an opponent of the merger, Hesse said that AT&T and T-Mobile's existing spectrum holdings are redundant.

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