Small carriers that don’t already have low-frequency spectrum should have an opportunity to acquire some in the upcoming voluntary incentive auction of TV broadcast spectrum, said the Justice Department in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission made public last week (via Reuters).
TV broadcast spectrum is in the 600 MHz frequency band and, like the 700 MHz spectrum that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are using for their LTE deployments, it has excellent propagation characteristics. Wireless equipment operating in these spectrum bands has a greater ability to penetrate walls than equipment operating in higher frequency bands. And when lower frequencies are used, an individual cell tower can cover a greater geographic area than when higher frequencies are used.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless beat out other national wireless carriers Sprint and T-Mobile for much of the 700 MHz spectrum when that spectrum was auctioned. And while both AT&T and Verizon have been deploying LTE in the 700 MHz band, the other two carriers are using higher-frequency bands for their LTE deployments.
Some smaller carriers have argued that lower-frequency spectrum is more valuable than equivalent higher-frequency spectrum and have asked the FCC to take that into consideration when determining the maximum amount of spectrum that an individual carrier can hold in an individual market. And apparently those arguments have resonated with the DOJ.
Based on what was reported by Reuters, however, the DOJ filing appears to stop short of recommending specific actions that the FCC should take, such as imposing caps on how much spectrum AT&T and Verizon could acquire in the 600 MHz auction. Instead, Reuters reports that the filing urges the FCC to “maintain vigilance” against efforts to further concentrate wireless market power.
The DOJ made its filing before Dish Network’s announcement yesterday that it has made an offer to purchase Sprint. If that plan is successful, the wireless competitive landscape could change significantly.
According to Dish, the combined company would have 230 MHz of spectrum, counting the holdings of Sprint, Clearwire and Dish. And some of Dish’s spectrum is in the 700 MHz band. Potentially those factors could put a combined Dish and Sprint in the same league as AT&T and Verizon should regulators make the decision to limit the amount of 600 MHz spectrum certain carriers can obtain.
While some FCC commissioners may be open to what the DOJ suggests, others have argued against imposing caps on how much spectrum an individual carrier can acquire in the 600 MHz auction. Those opposing caps say that the caps would constrain the amount of revenues that could be raised in the auction.