AT&T chief bashes FCC, pleads for more spectrum

Accuses FCC of "picking winners and losers"

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is still unhappy that the Federal Communications Commission helped foul up his company's merger with T-Mobile.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is still unhappy that the Federal Communications Commission helped foul up his company's attempt to merge with T-Mobile.

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During an earnings conference call this morning, Stephenson accused the FCC of using different standards when it comes to approving carriers' spectrum acquisitions. In particular he said the commission used a new set of spectrum cap standards to shoot down AT&T's failed T-Mobile merger while continuing to use an older, more lenient set of spectrum cap standards to approve the carrier's acquisition of 700MHz spectrum from Qualcomm just a few weeks later.

"We don't know how much spectrum we're allowed to hold and who we're allowed to do business with," said Stephenson, who also accused the FCC of trying to "pick winners and losers rather than let the market work."

Stephenson also prodded the FCC and Congress to get to work clearing up more spectrum for competitive auctions, as action on new spectrum has been stalled in Congress for months.

"We've seen explosive mobile broadband growth and that cannot continue without more spectrum," said Stephenson. "It's time for Congress and the FCC to step up."

AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile collapsed late last year after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust suit to block the merger and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski filed a proposal for an administrative hearing on the proposed merger before an administrative law judge.

Without the T-Mobile spectrum at its disposal, AT&T is currently at a competitive disadvantage with rival carrier Verizon in terms of spectrum that is readily available for LTE deployment. AT&T has roughly the same amount of total LTE-capable spectrum as Verizon does, but much of that spectrum is being used to support the carrier's 2G and 3G wireless data services. According to recent analysis from UBS, Verizon has an average of 62MHz of spectrum available for LTE use today in the top 100 U.S. markets while AT&T has an average of 37MHz of spectrum available for LTE use in the top 100 U.S. markets. Verizon currently has rolled out LTE in 195 markets covering 200 million points of presence while AT&T has set up LTE in 26 markets covering 74 million PoPs, although AT&T has pledged to double its total LTE points of presence coverage by the end of 2012.

The FCC has set a goal to make 300MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use over the next five years with the eventual goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum by the end of 2020. The FCC has said it could reach 300MHz by reallocating 120MHz of spectrum currently used by television broadcasters, with 90MHz coming from mobile satellite providers, 10MHz coming from the 700MHz "D" block, 60MHz coming from the AWS band and 20MHz coming from the Wireless Communications Service band.

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