AT&T asks the FCC to place additional guardrails on 5G spectrum acquisition

John Stankey, CEO of AT&T

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AT&T asked the Federal Communications Commission to add special screening for desirable frequencies that could be used to build the next generation wireless network, the company said on Wednesday.

Although AT&T does not name any competitors in its blog post announcing the petition, it is a proposal that, if accepted, could have significant ramifications for AT & T’s main competitors: T-Mobile and Verizon.

This is due to the fact that these actors have accumulated considerable stocks in the medium frequency range, which are considered optimal for setting up a 5G radio network. T-Mobile gained significant spectrum in its highly competitive Sprint acquisition, and Verizon won a large portion of the spectrum licenses in a closely watched auction earlier this year.

AT&T has also made some profits, but the company has been burdened with significant debt. Because of this, an additional screen for selling mid-band frequencies could be particularly beneficial for AT&T, which does not want to be locked out of the race for 5G coverage.

AT&T Executive Vice President for Federal Regulatory Relations, Joan Marsh, wrote in the blog post that a mid-band spectrum screen would be similar to those already in place for other types of spectrum and would not limit the total amount of spectrum a company could hold.

Instead, it would give the agency an opportunity to look more closely for possible adverse effects on competition. Marsh said a screen would be triggered if a spectrum acquisition made more than a third of the relevant spectrum available to a single company in a given market area.

“To the extent that such blocks become excessively concentrated in the hands of a license or two, 5G competition is likely to stall,” Marsh wrote.

Democratic attorneys general worried about the concentration of power in a few cellular networks when T-Mobile proposed to merge with Sprint. But a court eventually allowed the deal after the Trump Justice Department approved it.

Representatives from FCC, T-Mobile and Verizon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the petition.

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