Small, Rural Carriers Will Benefit from AT&T 700 MHz Interoperability Agreement, Analysts Say

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By Bryce Baschuk  

 

Sept. 10 -- AT&T Services Inc. voluntarily agreed to adopt new wireless device standards that will allow additional carriers to access AT&T's network. The Sept. 10 decision will benefit small and rural wireless carriers, analysts said.

The new interoperability standards for wireless devices that use the lower 700 MHz band will enable subscribers of small wireless carriers like U.S. Cellular Corp. and Cellular South Inc. to roam on AT&T's network, industry sources said. The agreement will also enable AT&T customers to retain their devices if they switch to certain carriers.


   

“This is a big win for consumers, especially in rural areas, who will see more competition and more choices,” acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn  

 

 


The commission has been seeking interoperability in the lower portion of the 700 MHz band since 2009.

Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory, said in a blog post that the agreement “will put the industry on a path to increased investment and deployment opportunities in the 700 MHz A Block.”

Marsh said AT&T has committed to modify its 700 MHz LTE network with new software that will allow the network to support Band 12-capable devices. “AT&T has also committed to working collaboratively with its chipset partners and [original equipment manufacturers] to introduce, within a reasonable time frame, new Band 12-capable devices into its device portfolio,” she said.

Clyburn Lauds Agreement

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the agreement “will resolve the lack of interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band in the most efficient manner.”

“This is a big win for consumers, especially in rural areas, who will see more competition and more choices,” Clyburn said in a news release. “Also, by making it easier for small wireless carriers to compete, today's interoperability solution will spur private investment, job creation, and the development of innovative new services and devices.”

An FCC official told Bloomberg BNA the agreement involved complex, multi-party negotiations and was made in good faith. Clyburn previously convened a meeting with stakeholders in July to attempt to increase interoperability in the band, the spokesman said.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the agreement is good news for American consumers. “The lack of interoperability has been a barrier to robust wireless competition that resulted in fewer choices in devices for wireless customers,” he said.

The decision is a significant win for smaller and rural carriers, industry analysts said. Steve Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association, said the agreement was a “huge step forward for the competitive wireless marketplace,” in a news release. “Every consumer, especially rural and disadvantaged consumers who lack access to high speed broadband, will benefit,” from the agreement.

Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said the agreement could “dramatically improve wireless availability and wireless competition in rural areas, as these smaller local providers will now be able to build out their 700 MHz A Block license networks.” Sohn added that by enabling standards of interoperability at the lower 700 MHz band consumers will be able to use their devices with large and small wireless carriers without purchasing a new device.

End of 'Obstructionism'?

Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said in a Sept. 10 statement the announcement “signals the end of AT&T's obstructionism, but still leaves us wondering what took so long to get here -- and more importantly, how quickly we'll see actual results.”

“It's good that AT&T has finally committed to exploring interoperability in the Lower 700 MHz band, which so many carriers want to use for next generation mobile broadband,” said Wood. “But Verizon's 4G offerings are in the Upper 700 MHz band, which means that today's announcement doesn't do anything to promote switching between those two dominant providers.”

Free State Foundation President Randolph May said the voluntary aspect of the agreement is greatly preferable to a federal regulatory approach. “FCC-imposed mandates are more likely to be more costly and burdensome, without providing more consumer benefits,” said May.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com


A copy of the AT&T's filing with the FCC can be seen at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7520942822.