AT&T and Verizon complain to FCC about T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings, T-Mo CEO responds

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AT&T and Verizon both recently came out against T-Mobile, asking the FCC to take action to prevent T-Mo’s spectrum portfolio from growing, and today T-Mo has responded.

First up, Verizon filed a petition to the FCC asking the agency to reconsider allowing T-Mobile to strike a 600MHz spectrum lease deal with Columbia Capital. Verizon argues that with these arrangements, T-Mo will exceed the FCC’s 250MHz screen for low- and mid-band spectrum in certain markets, including some where it already exceeds that screen by more than 100MHz.

“Concentration of needed spectrum in the hands of a single operator can raise serious competitive concerns and, over time, threaten the health and competitiveness of the wireless market,” Verizon says in its filing.

Meanwhile, AT&T made its own filing with the FCC in which it says that the T-Mobile-Sprint merger has “resulted in an unprecedented concentration of spectrum in the hands of one carrier.”

AT&T goes on to argue that the new T-Mobile exceeds the FCC’s spectrum screen in Cellular Market Areas representing 82 percent of the US population, which includes “all major markets”. AT&T asks the FCC to transparently re-evaluate its spectrum screen, including in cases where a company holds an amount of spectrum that’s in excess of that screen.

“If the spectrum screen is to continue to have meaning, the Commission needs to explain how it will be applied so there is some clarity on when, and under what circumstances, entities will be permitted to continue to amass holdings in excess of the screen,” said Joan Marsh, AT&T’s EVP of Regulatory and State External Affairs. “Absent such clarity, the screen will become an empty vessel.”

Today T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert published a blog post in response to AT&T and Verizon’s complaints. He says that AT&T and Verizon are “feeling the heat of real competition” and that the other two major US carriers are “scrambling to block this new competition any way they can.”

Sievert argues that AT&T previously purchased the 600MHz spectrum that T-Mo is leasing from Columbia Capital but then didn’t want it and sold it back to Columbia, while Verizon “never bothered to even show up and bid for any 600MHz spectrum.” He also claims that AT&T and Verizon want to limit T-Mobile’s ability to bid against them in the FCC’s upcoming C-band spectrum auction.

The T-Mobile CEO then argues that the FCC’s spectrum screen doesn’t take into account how those additional airwaves could enable wireless carriers like T-Mo to use their networks to “provide genuine competition to the incumbent in-home broadband providers.” T-Mobile has been running a pilot for its home internet service that uses its wireless network, and that testing recently opened up to everyone in Grand Rapids, Mich.

So far, the FCC hasn’t gotten involved in this bickering between the major US carriers. The aforementioned C-band spectrum auction is getting close, though, with bidding scheduled to get underway on December 8, so it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of AT&T and Verizon’s complaints.

Sources: FCC (1), (2), AT&T, T-Mobile

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  • pda96

    Sound like sour grapes (VZ & ATT).

    • Kyle

      It’s good to see T-Mobile winning, honest business practices paying off.

      • marque2

        There’ll be so much winning you will get tired of winning.

    • TheTruthIsOutThere

      Gotta maintain that duopoly dominance.

    • Nate

      I think part of the problem is VZW and ATT have too many hands in their network these days. Think about all the little carriers they lease coverage too. They can’t really compete with T-Mobile now because they’ve been selling themselves out over the years and won’t have the network capacity to make it a battle.

      • marque2

        Tmobile is with Google Fi, I suspect they work with other MNVOs as well. Dish will be one of them for awhile as well.

  • You gotta be kidding me right. They are finally threatened enough to complain… boo how shut up and compete for once

  • stupid8911 .

    Now, I understand we’re in a different place since Ma Bell wanted to acquire T-Mo, but isn’t it a little rich now to see their filing with the FCC. If I was any cheekier, I’d have to say, “HATER-ASS BISHES!”, but I’m classy, so…let them eat cake.

  • duscrom

    Hmm, So If I understand correctly, Verizon who is the #` carrier in the US, who advertises that they have the most coverage, is saying T-Mo has too much spectrum. Clearly that means coverage. And, if it’s a legal issue, that means Verizon doesn’t have too much. So they have less.

    So basically, this article is Verizon saying that T-Mobile has better coverage and should have more customers. Wow.. such a nice thing to say Verizon. I didn’t epect them to be such an honorable, consumer focused company who competes with better services and lower prices, and not some company who feels the need to litigate or use non consumer friendly tactics to hold onto their position of power.

    Did I get it right?

    • marque2

      Not necessarily. Spectrum and coverage aren’t always the same thing. You generally need more towers for coverage (though lower frequency bands can fill in some of the holes). More spectrum usually means higher average data speed per user. (given the same number of users when more spectrum becomes available)

      • Shaun Michalak

        You are right.. A good example is just look at Sprint.. yea, they have a lot of spectrum.. more then any other carrier did for years.. But it was mostly all band 41.. But did that make them have better speeds?? Nope.. Did it mean they had better coverage? Nope.. You have to have it deployed, and have the towers there for the coverage like you said.. But either way, I kind of like how the original posters comment sounded better.. It makes me laugh more..

        • marque2

          I was assuming the company would actually attempt to use the spectrum, but you are right it doesn’t have to be deployed either and then there would be nothing – no data or range increase.

        • Shaun Michalak

          I was taking into consideration how companies always hold back part of what they have for future use, new technologies, etc.. I doubt that there is a company out there that fully uses all of their frequency, and does not hold even just 10% of what they own back, from full use.. If they didn’t, then what would they be installing 5G on right now?? Because you know that they did not have that much frequency installed and used for 3G, that would be enough to use for 5G. T-Mobile proved that they did it by installing a lot more frequency on the towers when they installed band 71 coverage at the same time.. Sprint.. Heck, they used very little of their whole band 41 spectrum.. You can not tell me Verizon or AT&T is any different..

  • BC

    So basically the two bigger carriers are feeling threatened by T-Mobile and want to suppress the up and coming threat with legal action…It’s nice to see Verizon and ATT&T quaking!

  • Glenn Gore

    Oh well. Both these companies are years behind T-Mobile in 5G deployment, with Verizon in the worst shape by far. AT&T has had spectrum problems for years as well, with their hodge-podge of ownership that requires use of several different frequencies at any given location in order to provide adequate service. So this is all just sour grapes and whining when you get right down to it. AT&T and Verizon had their chance over the years to purchase and accumulate adequate spectrum for their needs, while T-Mobile was but a tiny carrier with no funds to do a lot of buying, but they didn’t. Pity!

  • Robert Roll

    If AT&T and Verizon wasn’t so concerned with profits by overcharging there customers with fees and paying exorbant amounts to there CEOs in bonuses and share holders and took that money and reinvested it in there infrastructure and spectrum to expand services they wouldn’t have this problem right now.

  • Francisco Peña

    So let’s see.

    ATT purchased the Spectrum, didn’t want it, and sold it back to Columbia.
    VZW didn’t even bid.
    TMo leased the spectrum from Columbia and now ATT and VZW have issues.

    Sorry ATT, you sold it back.
    Sorry VZW, you didn’t want to bid.

    Imagine the bills if they actually did buy it. lol

  • Shaun Michalak

    Upon looking stuff up about this, I found that screen was placed back in 2014.. Back then, T-Mobile and Sprint were no real competition, 4G LTE was just getting going, and data use on the cell towers was really limited compared to what it is today.. What I found out about the screen is that it combines both, low and mid band together into one category.. The problem is, It leaves out mmWave and only considers 2 categories below mmWave standards.. There is no low, high, and mid band.. It is either low band, below 1ghz, or midband, anything above 1ghz but below 28ghz?? mmWave frequencies. The threshold is set at one third per carrier.. Since low band is great for distance, and penetration, but sucks at speeds, I think that this should be updated with the current ways that cell phones are used.. Also taking cell towers are being the main internet use for some people..

    With that being said, and so much more frequency being auctioned off, I believe that the 2014 screen needs to be updated.. Just think.. if 80% of that use is in low band, then there is no way to get more high band for greater speeds.. Considering the conditions that T-Mobile is put under, saying that they have to have speeds in excess of 100mb down (or more) for customers in order to get the merger.. After all, lets be honest.. A lot of that spectrum is in the 600 and 700 mhz range, which is “not” great for keeping those kinds of speeds..

    On the irony part, AT&T said this back in 2014, when that screen was put in place..

    “AT&T argues that the proposal would lead to revenue losses due to the restriction on bidder participation and that the dynamic spectrum caps could cause failure of a clearing target that would have been met if no restrictions were in place, and the added complexity and incentives created for strategic bidding would threaten to distort auction outcomes.”

    Consider that statement from AT&T while considering that they are now trying to keep T-Mobile from going to the 3ghz auctions.. Oh how words can come back to bite you.. lol

  • Shaun Michalak

    I think that this just shows that AT&T and Verizon are both scared of losing (or are losing) their monopoly on the cell industry.. When you are complaining about “borrowed” spectrum being used.. and leased spectrum is just that.. borrowed.. They do not own it..

    I will also bet that the amount of spectrum that they are including, is also including the 800mhz spectrum that T-Mobile currently owns, but has to give up to Dish for them to buy within 3 years.. So they are including spectrum that they are not going to be keeping just to make it sound worse..

    Ironic that back in 2017, when AT&T had about 50% more spectrum then either T-Mobile or Verizon in the mid and low band area, that they had no complaints.. Now, someone has more then them, and the complaints start flying.. Hmm

    Last I checked, AT&T was the only one that had any spectrum above the 2ghz range, and the amount that hey had was minimal.. on average, about 30mhz worth.. and Verzion.. Nothing.. So this tells me that both AT&T and Verizon want that 3ghz range spectrum, and keeping T-Mobile out of the loop will allow them both to get more of it, and at a better price.. They could talk about it before hand, and not bid the other up too much so they both can get it at a better price.. T-Mobile does not play well in that aspect, as it would throw those plans to the wind..

    • marque2

      They aren’t allowed to talk about it before hand. That would be collusion. FCC could have an open bidding process though and somehow they do seem to provide some equity so that one service doesn’t always get all the spectrum. Tmobile has been a beneficiary of spectrum for smaller providers in the past.

      • Shaun Michalak

        Should and could are 2 different things.. Yes, it would be collusion.. but say just the head CEO’s talk about it, over the phone, on private phones.. Prove that they did.. That is just it.. You can’t unless one of them tells about it.. and no CEO would do that and incriminate themselves too..

        I am not saying that they definitely do it, but at the same time, Verizon and AT&T seem to be on the same page a little too much recently for me to think that it is not possible.. Just look at the 600mhz auctions.. Neither AT&T or Verizon cared about the spectrum, AT&T just went there to buy a little for someone else, which they almost immediately sold off, and there was no fuss about anything with it.. Suddenly the good spectrum for speeds come up, and all heck breaks loose.. I just find it too much of a coincidence at the timing for them not to be talking..

        • marque2

          It is very very very illegal. It really isn’t done much by companies especially high profile ones. You get fined even if it kinda sorta looks like collusion, even if there was none. Government is pretty tight on this – so no, I doubt it is happening.