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'Overly Hyped'

Dish, AT&T Take on T-Mobile in Comments on Spectrum Screen

CTIA and NCTA locked horns in reply comments on whether the FCC should examine spectrum aggregation limits. AT&T asked for a rulemaking in 2021, focused on mid-band holdings, but the FCC's questions in a September notice (see 2309220064) go beyond what AT&T sought (see 2310060051). T-Mobile took fire from Dish Network and AT&T.

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NCTA urged the FCC to look more closely at spectrum holdings. “As the record demonstrates, spectrum holdings are heavily concentrated among the largest nationwide wireless carriers, to the detriment of competition and consumers,” NCTA said, noting the problem isn’t confined to mid-band spectrum. The FCC should establish a policy that it will consider “licensed-shared and unlicensed spectrum access frameworks in all proceedings that propose to make new commercial spectrum available,” cablers said. Rules should be established on a band-specific basis “including smaller geographic license areas, appropriate power limits, and appropriately sized channel blocks,” NCTA said.

Spectrum holding policies “should be considered in the context of broader spectrum policy, as spectrum holdings policies are a regulatory response to spectrum scarcity,” CTIA responded. “Making more spectrum available is the most effective way to address … regulatory concerns, promote competition, and meet consumer demand.” CTIA slammed initial comments by NCTA and others calling for “policies that would undermine wireless competition and deployment, contrary to the goal of the inquiry.” CTIA noted seven times more mid-band spectrum is dedicated to unlicensed and shared use than licensed operations.

T-Mobile urged the FCC to reject calls for tougher aggregation policies. “The record confirms that all commenters -- whether large providers like AT&T or small rural providers -- have been able to secure sufficient spectrum to meet their business plans,” T-Mobile said: “The record also supports T-Mobile’s view that the current spectrum screen has been susceptible to misuse to impede competition and that the screen no longer reflects the realities of how spectrum is being used.” Rather than focus on screens, the carrier urged the commission to focus on making more spectrum available for licensed use.

Dish took on T-Mobile, noting the carrier is one of the few commenters opposed to revised spectrum aggregation policies “on the incredible ground that spectrum has been overly hyped and is actually not that important.” At the same time, T-Mobile has bragged to investors about its strong spectrum position, Dish said: “If four national competitors are to emerge, and if the spiral of price increases is to come to an end, T-Mobile’s efforts to corner the spectrum market must stop.” Dish called for a national screen of 25% in key 5G bands, with “a stricter policy” of enforcing limits.

AT&T joined Dish in challenging T-Mobile. “No commenter seriously disputes the industry realities that necessitate a mid-band spectrum screen,” AT&T said. It also flagged T-Mobile’s messaging to investors, including on the most recent earnings call (see 2310250050). “Controversial past decisions of this Commission have allowed T-Mobile to obtain an outsized share of the available limited supply of mid-band spectrum,” AT&T said: “That share is now so enormous that it pushes the company well past even the current and more general spectrum screen.”

A coalition of mid-band spectrum holders sided with T-Mobile and CTIA in opposing a revised screen. “The Commission should not dedicate its limited resources to initiating a rulemaking to augment its already complicated spectrum aggregation policies and instead focus on replenishing its spectrum pipeline and restoring its auction authority,” the coalition said. Canopy Spectrum, Cherry Wireless, Monarch Wireless, N Squared Wireless, Tristar License Group and United Wireless Communications signed the filing.