FCC Votes to Approve AT&T Bid To Acquire Spectrum From Qualcomm

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission late Dec. 22 voted to approve AT&T Inc.'s proposal to buy spectrum from Qualcomm in the 700 megahertz band for $1.93 billion.

The deal includes 12 MHz of lower D- and E-block spectrum covering 70 million people in five of the top 15 U.S. markets, and 6 MHz of lower D-block spectrum covering 230 million people in the remaining areas of the country—spectrum that Qualcomm had bought at auction for its MediaFLO mobile TV business, which has now been discontinued.

Critics of the sale argue that just two wireless carriers—AT&T and Verizon Wireless—will now control all of the cellular and 700 MHz band licenses in most of the largest markets in the country as well as in many rural markets.

Of all the spectrum bands allocated for mobile broadband uses, the 700 MHz band is the most valuable to the wireless industry because of the electromagnetic properties of its frequencies. Frequencies in the 700 MHz band travel farther and penetrate walls and windows far more effectively than frequencies in other spectrum bands, allowing wireless carriers to provide their services—particularly mobile broadband services—with far fewer cell sites.

Copps Dissents From Vote of Approval.

The FCC's approval of the deal is subject to conditions. The order was not available at BNA's press time, but agency sources said mandatory interoperability in the 700 MHz band is not one of the conditions.

Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps dissented from the agency's approval. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, also a Democrat, concurred.

For the much of this year, the FCC had been reviewing the proposed acquisition in coordination with the agency's review of AT&T's bid, now dropped, to buy T-Mobile.

While AT&T has now abandoned efforts to obtain regulatory approval to acquire T-Mobile, Qualcomm's 700 MHz spectrum will be crucial to the wireless carrier's future 4G plans.

By Paul Barbagallo