On Friday, RWA continued its assault on the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s decision waiving certain 700 MHz license buildout requirements for T-Mobile in Montana and Wyoming, and effectively rewarding the current license holder, Bresnan Communications (a wholly owned subsidiary of Charter Communications), for warehousing its 700 MHz spectrum for eight years. Bresnan sat on three 700 MHz licenses for eight years making no effort to buildout before attempting to sell those licenses to T-Mobile contingent on a waiver requested a mere 2 ½ months before the initial construction deadline for the licenses. Under Section 27.14(g) of the FCC’s rules, this failure to construct would have accelerated by two years (to June 13, 2017) the end of license term and related construction requirements for these licenses, and in areas where those requirements were not met, spectrum would have been subject to relicensing to entities that actually intend to buildout their networks. Despite the fact that Bresnan had taken no steps to construct during the eight years it held its licenses and without making any determination that unavoidable circumstances beyond the licensee’s control existed, the Bureau granted a waiver to allow T-Mobile additional time to construct and Bresnan to reap a profit from its spectrum warehousing.
Section 27.14(g) was adopted to prevent spectrum warehousing, and the Bureau’s decision is inconsistent with the underlying purpose of the buildout requirements and rule requiring acceleration of the license term. The Bureau’s decision eviscerates the acceleration rule by allowing licensees to ignore their buildout obligations as long as they are able to find a willing buyer prior to their initial construction deadline. The decision causes severe damage to the public interest by incenting licensees to ignore their buildout obligations. In January, the Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau stated that “Squatting on spectrum licenses without any meaningful effort to put them to good use in a timely manner is fundamentally inconsistent with the public good.” That is exactly what has happened here, and it would be arbitrary and capricious for the Commission to allow this harmful precedent to stand.
RWA filed an Application for Review with the full Commission to make the determination that there is no public interest basis to uphold the Bureau’s waiver. Although the Bureau believes that T-Mobile will serve the public interest by bringing competitive service to these license areas because T-Mobile has agreed to certain buildout conditions, there is no guarantee that T-Mobile will actually meet these conditions. Indeed, T-Mobile already holds numerous licenses for the affected areas and could utilize them to provide the competitive services. Moreover, the affected areas will not go without competitive service if the waiver grant is reversed. Section 27.14(g) provides for relicensing of unserved spectrum where buildout requirements have not been met. Interested carriers, as well as T-Mobile, would then have the opportunity to obtain spectrum to provide competitive service.