Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile accuse each other of spectrum hoarding and market domination

25 September 2020 by Steve Blum
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Tmobile los angeles spectrum

T-Mobile is building up its inventory of mobile bandwidth, first by leasing low band, 600 MHz spectrum from a private investment firm and then, it hopes, by buying more capacity when the Federal Communications Commission auctions off C-band frequencies later this year.

That bothers AT&T and Verizon, which have formally registered their annoyance with the FCC. Although neither company publicly opposed T-Mobile acquisition of Sprint (what their lobbyists and lawyers do behind closed doors is often a different story), they’re both complaining that T-Mobile is already holding too much spectrum – exceeds the spectrum screen as the jargon goes – and shouldn’t be allowed to buy or lease any more, until AT&T and Verizon have a chance to catch up. Presumably by buying spectrum at auction without having to compete against T-Mobile’s bids.

In a blog post, an AT&T staff lobbyist argued…

In the wake of its acquisition of Sprint (in which the FCC declined to require any divestitures), T-Mobile itself now exceeds the Commission’s screen by an unprecedented margin throughout much of the country. And T-Mobile continues to add additional spectrum to its hoard. Additional spectrum leases with Dish will cause T-Mobile to exceed the 250 MHz screen by as much as 136 MHz.

Given this unprecedented level of spectrum concentration in the hands of a single carrier, we have entered a new era for the FCC’s spectrum acquisition analytical tools. The Commission must now take action to reaffirm the importance of a spectrum aggregation tool and define a meaningful approach going forward.

T-Mobile’s CEO, Mike Sievert, blasted back in a blog post of his own

Verizon, as the holder of the most spectrum in the U.S. marketplace by far, which they gained through their own financial dominance, has the anti-competitive instincts and sheer audacity to complain that a much smaller T-Mobile has too much. After holding massive spectrum advantages over T-Mobile and others for decades, Verizon and AT&T just can’t stand the idea of anyone else being ahead of them or having a fair shot in an auction where they plan to use their financial might to do what they have always done – dominate.

This squabbling is worth watching. Maybe a beefed up T-Mobile will be a competitive counterweight to AT&T and Verizon. Or maybe the three will settle into a comfortable state of non-competitive tension.