The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has officially denied T-Mobile’s request for more radio airwaves in the upcoming auction of TV broadcast spectrum happening in 2016. All five of the commissioners on the FCC voted unanimously to stick with the same spectrum reserve set up it adopted in 2014 for the auction, which will likely happen on March of next year.
The fact that the FCC voted unanimously against T-Mobile’s request should not be much of a surprise. Back in June earlier this year, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, had stated that the agency was not planning to increase the amount of spectrum it was putting in reserve especially for smaller players participating in the upcoming auction.
For those not in the know, spectrum refers to the set of licensed airwaves that let wireless carriers transmit all sorts of content (videos, photos, music) from the web to the consumer’s mobile device. For some wireless carriers, acquiring additional spectrum is critical for their business, especially in terms of meeting the ever increasing demand for more data. Wireless carriers such as T-Mobile and Sprint have been pressuring the FCC to provide more spectrum for them to bid on, without having to pit themselves against industry leaders like Verizon Wireless and AT&T who hold the advantage of having more cash to spend during wireless auctions. Last year, the FCC had agreed to set up a spectrum reserve for smaller wireless carriers, but T-Mobile claimed that the reserve was not nearly enough.
Furthermore, many consider next year’s auction as a crucial one. It would mark the first time since 2008 that the wireless industry could get hold of some valuable low frequency airwaves that would enable signals to go through walls more easily as well as reach wider, farther areas. Additionally, the upcoming auction will prove to be more complicated because the FCC would try to encourage TV broadcasters into sell their spectrum and at the same time, sell that spectrum to wireless carriers. For several months now, the agency has been busy finalizing its rules for the auction.
As for T-Mobile, its usually outspoken chief executive officer, John Legere, played down the FCC’s decision. Instead, Legere cited the significance of the agency setting aside some spectrum for smaller players, call the move a cause for celebration among smaller wireless carriers and their customers. Legere further said that T-Mobile will be counted on to participate in the auction and try to achieve some success in acquiring new spectrum for itself.
The Competitive Carrier Association, however, has a less positive reaction over the FCC’s decision. The group is representing T-Mobile and other small wireless carriers, and as expressed by its chief executive officer Steven Berry, had hoped that the spectrum reserve would be increased. But it however thanked the FCC for at least setting aside some airwaves for smaller wireless companies.
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