Today, T-Mobile filed a petition to deny a spectrum acquisition by AT&T in three rural cellular market areas (CMAs) in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. The purchase will give AT&T the needed spectrum footprint to deploy up to a 10×10 MHz LTE network in these markets, which will enable AT&T to offer faster and higher quality services to its rural customers. The proposed transaction also has no adverse competitive effects. AT&T will not exceed the Commission’s spectrum aggregation screen and — because the spectrum at issue currently sits completely fallow and unused – the deal will not reduce any actual competition.
Yet, T-Mobile complains, arguing that AT&T should not be permitted to buy and deploy this fallow spectrum and that AT&T should not be allowed to invest in these rural communities to deploy high quality LTE services.
T-Mobile’s disdain for rural investment has long been evident. Looking at T-Mobile’s current and proposed coverage maps, it’s readily apparent that T-Mobile offers very little coverage in these markets today. Moreover, even as it purportedly expands to cover 300M POPs by the end of 2015, T-Mobile has only limited plans to invest in the rural markets covered by these licenses, particularly those in West Virginia. T-Mobile also has 20-30 MHz of AWS spectrum in all of these markets that it could use to serve these rural communities if it chose. Finally, if T-Mobile wants low band spectrum for these markets, it could buy the 700 MHz A block spectrum (which is largely undeployed in these markets) and deploy it – a path it is following for many other markets.
Yet, T-Mobile chooses to do none of these. Instead it is spending resources on trying to block AT&T from investing in rural America. I guess un-investment in un-urban markets is the un-carrier thing to do.