Over a year ago, AT&T filed an application seeking to acquire two Lower 700 MHz B Block licenses from Club 42 CM Limited Partnership. AT&T’s ownership of 700 MHz B Block licenses is wholly uncontroversial – we purchased many in the 700 MHz auction and have been enhancing our B block footprint through small deals for some time.
As with the other B block deals before it, there is no real argument against the merits of this acquisition. The transaction involves bare spectrum that will provide AT&T with a sufficient position to support a 10 x 10 MHz LTE deployment in 700 MHz in the relevant markets. A contiguous 10 x 10 MHz configuration is more spectrally efficient and has a greater throughput than a 5 x 5 MHz deployment. The more robust LTE network made possible by this transaction will improve spectral efficiency, increase network capacity and enable us to offer faster, higher quality services to our customers. For these reasons, the Commission has repeatedly found that transactions that enable 10 x 10 MHz LTE deployments serve the public interest and has approved them.
Yet, and without offering any cogent argument or justification, CCA and T-Mobile have opposed the deal, arguing that the Commission should simply prohibit any incremental low-band spectrum aggregation by AT&T and Verizon. Period. They essentially assert that low band spectrum transactions should be deemed presumptively unlawful for any company named AT&T or Verizon.
With this argument, CCA and T-Mobile fundamentally misconstrue the FCC’s new enhanced factor analysis. Far from any presumptive standard, the Commission has retained its fact-based, case-by-case approach to transaction reviews, an approach that has worked well for many years in that it balances public interest benefits against concrete competitive harms. In the enhanced review, the Commission now considers low band aggregation as an enhanced factor that warrants heightened scrutiny. And given the detailed information the Commission has sought on this transaction, it is clear the Commission is taking the heightened scrutiny standard very seriously.
CCA’s bald insistence that the transaction is bad simply because it involves low band spectrum is not only wrong on the law, but it’s bad policy. As the Commission made clear, “The acquisition of below 1-GHz spectrum resulting in holdings of approximately one-third or more of such spectrum will not preclude a conclusion that a proposed transaction, on balance, furthers the public interest.” And where a transaction furthers the public interest, as this transaction clearly does, it should be approved.
This deal has been pending for more than a year and no one has raised any credible evidence (or really any evidence at all) that this transaction is not in the public interest or that it produces competitive harms. It’s time to move this item forward for approval.