On March 11th, RTG petitioned the FCC to deny the proposed assignment of Qualcomm’s lower 700 MHz band licenses to AT&T or in the alternative to condition any such grant in a manner that will protect rural consumers and ensure that the availability, price and quality of service provided by rural wireless carriers to rural consumers is not threatened or harmed.
Approval of the proposed transaction would pose a serious threat to meaningful competition in the mobile wireless marketplace and would be contrary to the public interest. Such approval would frustrate the purpose of the National Broadband Plan and would have a harmful effect on the domestic roaming market and place too much concentration of market power in the hands of AT&T, to the particular detriment of rural wireless consumers. If the transaction is approved, AT&T and Verizon will control all of the cellular and 700 MHz band licenses (a.k.a. “beachfront spectrum”) in most of the largest markets in the country as well as many rural markets. Such duopolization to date has resulted in anticompetitive harm to wireless carriers and their customers, and has had the effect of driving some smaller carriers out of business. The resulting inability of small rural carriers to get data roaming agreements on a nationwide level, at the most advanced data speeds available, and at fair and reasonable rates has prevented them from competing effectively against AT&T and Verizon, to the ultimate harm of customers residing in or travelling through rural areas.
Any approval of the proposed transaction should be subject to several conditions. Specifically, AT&T should be required to offer data roaming on reasonable terms and conditions (including rates) and on any compatible air interface technology of the requesting carrier. In addition, the FCC should prohibit handset exclusivity agreements and impose a mandatory requirement that all mobile wireless devices be interoperable across the entire 700 MHz band. Public Safety should also be given priority access and the ability to roam on AT&T’s commercial network. Finally, to ensure that the proposed transaction advances the FCC’s and the Administration’s broadband deployment goals (especially in rural areas), and to ensure that AT&T does not warehouse additional spectrum, the FCC should condition any approval of the proposed transaction on AT&T’s compliance with uniform, accelerated performance requirements for all of its 700 MHz licenses (including licenses acquired as part of this transaction).