The Rural Telecommunications Group (RTG) filed comments yesterday opposing the proposed transfer of 700 MHz licenses from D&E Investments, Inc. (D&E), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Windstream Corporation (Windstream), to New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC (New Cingular), a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T Inc. The proposed transaction does not serve the public interest and, absent AT&T relinquishment of additional 700 MHz licenses, should be denied. Furthermore, should the FCC approve the transaction, the following conditions should be placed on AT&T:
- Prohibiting the continued use of exclusivity agreements between carriers and device manufacturers,
- Requiring all devices in the Lower 700 MHz Band to be fully interoperable on all blocks within that band,
- Extending automatic roaming obligations to data services, and
- Limiting the amount of spectrum AT&T can hold below 2.3 GHz to no more than a total of 110 megahertz.
If the FCC allows AT&T to add to its Lower 700 MHz Band spectrum holdings, it would severely impact the potential for industry wide LTE device interoperability, drastically reduce the number of potential roaming partners for rural carriers and the rural consumers they serve, and further consolidate the already scarce amount of spectrum below 2.3 GHz into the hands of the nation's second largest mobile operator while simultaneously removing yet another potential competitor in rural markets that are already heavily-consolidated. By approving this transaction, three of the six markets (counties) would be reduced to two holders, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, of paired licensed of paired spectrum in the highly-sought "beachfront" Cellular and 700 MHz bands.
The proposed transaction is further proof of how the mobile wireless marketplace has devolved into a duopoly at the expense of rural mobile consumers. RTG requests that the FCC deny approval of this transaction unless and until the FCC grants approval of another proposed transaction, this one between AT&T and Qualcomm Inc., which includes Lower 700 MHz Band C and D Block licenses in all six of the target markets (counties). However, should the FCC approve the proposed AT&T-Windstream transaction, it should do so only in those markets where, post-transaction, AT&T will control less than 110 MHz of total spectrum below 2.3 GHz while also imposing the conditions listed above. This practical and reasonable spectrum cap will help prevent hyper-aggregation of valuable spectrum.
"Until Americans see any appreciable increase in the overall amount of usable spectrum available for mobile broadband, that spectrum which has already been licensed should not be further aggregated into the hands of fewer and fewer mobile wireless operators and simultaneously eroding actual marketplace competition," stated Carri Bennet, RTG's General Counsel. Ms. Bennet noted that, "Companies like AT&T and Verizon Wireless grew into what they are today on the backs of small and rural carriers. With their vast marketing capital they advertised nationwide coverage, utilized rural roaming coverage offered by RTG members and other similarly situated small and rural carriers, and then selectively over-built that rural roaming coverage. Small and rural carriers do not have the same luxury today. Not only is there a dearth of new spectrum preventing more carriers from becoming "nationwide," but those carriers like AT&T which have already achieved nationwide status are doing everything in their power to prevent carriers without access to spectrum outside their licensed markets from establishing fair 3G and 4G data roaming agreements so that these carriers can offer consumers a competitive choice. Without data roaming obligations placed on carriers, transactions such as this will effectively shut out those carriers without licenses from offering nationwide 3G and 4G services."
Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Rural Telecommunications Group is a trade association representing rural wireless carriers who each serve less than 100,000 subscribers. RTG's members have joined together to speed delivery of new, efficient and innovative telecommunications technologies to remote and underserved communities.