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AT&T, competitors spar over FCC legislation

Thu, 02/09/2012 - 4:32pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

AT&T and a number of its competitors have come out on opposite sides of the fence about provisions in a House bill that would strip the FCC of some of its authority to govern spectrum auctions.

The CEOs of Atlantic Tele-Network, Bluegrass Cellular, C Spire Wireless, Cricket Communications, NorthwestCell, Sprint, T-Mobile USA and the Rural Cellular Association yesterday asked members of a congressional committee considering the legislation to remove a portion of the bill that would block the FCC from imposing conditions on spectrum auctions.

The FCC manages spectrum sales and auctions to prevent the formation of monopolies and duopolies and ensure transactions are in the public interest.

"The proposed provision would substantially limit the FCC's ability to promote competition and a competitive wireless marketplace for consumers throughout America," the companies wrote in a Wednesday letter sent to 20 members of the House and Senate. "It would facilitate spectrum warehousing, inefficient use of scarce spectrum resources and reduce spectrum auction revenues to the U.S. Treasury."

Specifically, the bill would prevent the FCC from excluding auction bidders for reasons other than "technical, financial and character qualifications." It also stops the agency from imposing net neutrality conditions or requirements that a licensee provide wholesale access to its network.

AT&T disagreed with its smaller competitors. "Auctions should be open, not closed," AT&T legislative affairs executive Jim Cicconi said in a post on the company's official blog.

Cicconi accused Sprint and the other operators that signed the letter of trying to get the FCC "to stack the deck in its favor. … These companies should be prepared to compete in a fair and open auction and should stop seeking a rigged spectrum auction that would harm consumers and cost the Treasury billions."

AT&T has repeatedly criticized the FCC for its handling of spectrum auctions and has also gone after the agency for regulations passed last year on mandatory data roaming, which it says unfairly allows competitors to piggyback on its network.

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