The head of the FCC took a swipe at his critics during a Tuesday keynote address, when he defended the agency’s decision to block AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile USA.
“Some have recently argued that the government’s review of transactions in the wireless space – let’s be frank, review of one specific transaction – is somehow causing a shortage of spectrum and leading that company to raise prices for consumers,” he said, arguing the amount of spectrum available to operators did not shrink because the massive buyout fell through.
“The FCC’s track record here is very clear, and our review of one transaction that crossed a line simply proves that there is a line,” he said.
AT&T legislative affairs chief Jim Cicconi quickly shot back in a post on the operator’s official blog.
“The merger AT&T proposed last year was all about creating more capacity by combining the spectrum holdings and networks of two companies,” he said. “The FCC was within its rights to withhold its approval. But it is incorrect when it denies the impact such decisions have on the price of wireless services.”
Increased prices for consumers was an inevitable consequence of the spectrum crunch, Cicconi said, calling it “basic economics.”
Genachowski did not dwell long on the doomed acquisition, whose announcement rocked attendees of last year’s show, using the subject instead as a segue to talk about specific steps the FCC is taking to free up more spectrum for the wireless industry.
There is “no silver bullet” to solve the capacity crunch, Genachowski said. Addressing the issue will require both new sources of spectrum and more efficient use of existing assets.
The FCC plans to sell off 65 MHz of spectrum over the next three years aside from the airwaves it hopes to glean from voluntary sell-offs of television broadcast spectrum, he said. The agency is looking at ways to repurpose 1.7 GHz spectrum used by the government, but the NTIA has warned only a limited amount may be available for re-farming.
The Commission is also working to revise outdated regulations that limit spectrum’s use for mobile broadband services. Genachowski pointed out a number of initiatives, including the opening of white space spectrum and a proposal to convert 40 MHz of AWS-4 spectrum for terrestrial instead of satellite use, rules that would allow Dish Network to move forward with its wireless network.
The FCC also plans to vote on an order at its May 24 open meeting that will make it easier to deploy LTE in the 800 MHz band, where deployments have so far been limited by narrow channel allotments.
Also on the table are plans to make 25 MHz in the 2.3 GHz WCS band “more usable” and an initiative to open more Wi-Fi spectrum by freeing up an additional 120 MHz in the 5 GHz band, he said.
Some in the industry have expressed concerns that the FCC’s incentive auction plan will free up less spectrum than previously hoped if broadcasters refuse to give up their airwaves.
The proposal has not been popular with the broadcast television industry, but Genachowski expressed confidence in the auction’s success, saying “to borrow a phrase, reports of the spectrum auction’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
Also on the keynote stage Tuesday morning was Patrick Riordan, the incoming chairman of CTIA and president and CEO of Cellcom, a regional operator based in Wisconsin.
Smaller providers and their larger rivals can use CTIA as a platform to address longstanding tensions, Riordan said. “We all know the issues between the larger and smaller carriers,” he said. “We can’t ignore them; we must face them. … We need to unite for our common goals.”
Executives from MasterCard Worldwide and Pandora later addressed the audience to tout their respective mobile payments technology and streaming Internet radio service.
Gary Flood, president of global products and solutions for MasterCard, said that “when it comes to payments, one size certainly doesn’t fit all,” citing a number of partnerships with Google, Intel, Isis and other providers. Pandora President and CEO Joe Kennedy listed several examples where technology shifted old paradigms and said wireless could take that a step further.
In a morning session where not all in the audience necessarily agreed with the message on stage, the innovative impact of wireless was common ground.