FCC questions 6 operators in AT & T merger review

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 8:05am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

The FCC is asking six of AT&T's top competitors to answer questions on network coverage, backhaul, pricing and spectrum for its review of AT&T's $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA.

The agency sent 37-page letters with a list of nine questions Monday to Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, U.S. Cellular, MetroPCS, Cellular South and Cricket Communications parent Leap Wireless International, asking for detailed information about the companies' operations.

The operators have until June 20 to submit their answers to the FCC. The responses will be treated as confidential.

The documents suggest the FCC is interested in the merger's effect on the wireless backhaul market, which is dominated by AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

The agency asked for information on how much of the operators' backhaul is shared with AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as whether AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile have cut special deals on backhaul services.

"Describe and provide all documents comprising any agreement or understanding, written or oral, in effect between either Verizon Wireless and/or Verizon Communications, and AT&T or T-Mobile, as of the date of this request, in which either has any preferential rights, including rights of first refusal or lower rates on collocation or backhaul provided by the other to cell sites," the FCC wrote.

Many wireless operators lease out backhaul from their competitors to manage capacity on their network. Some operators have expressed fears that AT&T and Verizon Wireless will hold a duopoly on the backhaul market that would ultimately raise backhaul rates if the FCC approves AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile.

The FCC is also asking the operators to divulge whether they will face spectrum and capacity constraints within the next year, within the next three years and within the next five years.

The agency wants to know whether the operators plan to address network congestion by acquiring new spectrum, adding cell sites and backhaul, repurposing existing spectrum holdings, or using alternative solutions like upgrading network equipment or raising prices on wireless service.

AT&T has told the FCC that it needs T-Mobile's spectrum assets to increase the capacity of its wireless network.

In addition to questions about backhaul and spectrum, the FCC requested specific information on network coverage by technology type, such as GSM, EDGE, HSPA, HSPA+, CDMA and LTE, as well as plans for future network deployments. The agency also asked for information about prices, billing data and subscribers, as well as comments about how the operators view services offered by their competitors.


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