AT&T’s claims that it needs additional spectrum to deploy its planned 4G network simply don’t reflect reality, according to sources close to Sprint who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
This assertion came as Sprint filed with the Federal Communications Commission on May 31 its official objections to AT&T’s proposed $39 billion buyout of wireless company T-Mobile on the grounds that it would be harmful to the consumer and provide no public benefit.
In its filing with the FCC requesting transfer of T-Mobile’s licenses, AT&T claimed that it lacks the spectrum necessary to deploy LTE. But the sources told eWEEK that AT&T has more spectrum available than any other carrier, including Verizon Wireless, which has successfully deployed LTE across much of the United States.
AT&T has huge amounts of unused spectrum that it can tap, including a large part of the 700MHz AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) band that it has so far failed to use. T-Mobile has AWS at 1,900MHz and 2,100MHz. However, combining those three bands for LTE isn’t technically feasible, negating AT&T’s claim that it needs this spectrum to expand its 4G network.
No less an authority than Ren??Â« Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom, has also made statements that T-Mobile doesn’t haveusable LTE bands. The actual situation regarding T-Mobile is unclear because earlier in the year T-Mobile, in its stockholder’s statement, reported that it had plenty of spectrum available for the continued growth of its HSPA+ network.
Today’s filing with the FCC makes Sprint’s opposition official. In the petition to deny the license transfer, Sprint says that the proposed merger would beharmful to the broadband economy, competition and consumers, and that the takeover of T-Mobile would harm innovation and investment. Sprint also said that there is no public interest benefit.
In comments released by the company along with the FCC filing, Sprint said that AT&T’s purchase of T-Mobile would do nothing to relieve spectrum congestion, noting that AT&T already has the largest spectrum holdings of any wireless company in the United States, much of it still unused. Sprint also questions AT&T’s assertion that it needs T-Mobile to reach 97 percent of the U.S. population, since its current spectrum holdings already enable that reach.
In its press release, Sprint suggests that the worst possible choice for American consumers is to have what it calls “Twin Bells” in charge of virtually all of the wireless communications in the United States The Twin Bells refers to the fact that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless are reconstituted survivors of the original breakup of AT&T by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1984.
Worries About Building the Ma Bell of Wireless
The merger of AT&T and T-Mobile would effectively give the descendants of Ma Bell 82 percent of the wireless service in the United States, according to Sprint.
The merger serves only to protect AT&T from competition. Sprint claims in its statement that “AT&T is simply seeking a government bailout for problems of its own making and expects the cost of the bailout to be shouldered by American consumers,” according to a prepared statement by Vonya McCann, senior vice president for Government Affairs for Sprint. “Instead of paying Deutsche Telekom $39 billion, AT&T could invest a fraction of that amount to expand its LTE deployment to nearly all Americans,” McCann’s statement said.
While Sprint is probably the biggest opponent to the merger at this point, it’s certainly not alone. A public interest group called the Diogenes Project has told eWEEK that it has filed a similar petition with the FCC. According to a copy of the pleading provided to eWEEK, the group claims that there is no evidence to support AT&T’s claims that it is suffering a spectrum shortage, but that rather AT&T is trying to kill competition.
In addition, the Diogenes Project is saying in its petition to deny AT&T’s license transfer that AT&T’s claims that T-Mobile does not have a clear path to LTE are unsubstantiated and false. “What is truly shocking about the AT&T/T-Mobile application is the extent to which it misrepresents the conditions and capabilities of both companies and their prospects for the future were they to remain independent,” the group states in its filing.
“These mischaracterizations and discrepancies have largely to do with AT&T’s linchpin public interest claim, namely that AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings is key to the availability of LTE throughout the country, and that T-Mobile having ‘no clear path to LTE’ is on life support.”
Instead, the lack of a clear path to LTE for AT&T is ultimately AT&T’s own failing, according to the source close to Sprint. “AT&T chose not to deploy; they say how hard it is to deploy,” the source said. The source said that in reality AT&T is the industry laggard in deploying high-speed networking and that because of this the company should suffer the disadvantages of being too slow to compete. “If you don’t respond quickly,” the source said, “customers won’t choose you.”
Apparently the public agrees. To date, the FCC has received approximately 25,000 public comments on the application for transfer of T-Mobile’s licenses to AT&T, and according to several independent counts, the comments are about 90 percent in opposition to the merger.
A sampling of the comments reviewed by eWEEK indicate deep concern on the part of the public about the potential for increased costs, the concern by T-Mobile customers that they will lose their 3G and 4G data access, and a general concern that dividing the market between two huge parts of the former AT&T wouldn’t be good for consumers. The comments can be found on the FCC’s Website by searching for Docket 11-65.