The FCC has approved AT&T's acquisition of 700MHz spectrum from Qualcomm’s FLO TV venture at a purchase price of $1.9 billion. The spectrum will be now be repurposed to bolster AT&T’s LTE (4G) network.
In October 2010, Qualcomm announced it was suspending new sales of the service to consumers. In December of that year, AT&T announced that it would purchase Qualcomm's FCC licenses in the 700 MHz band. FLO TV discontinued service on March 27, 2011.
AT&T acquired six megahertz of unpaired 700 MHz spectrum nationwide and an additional six megahertz of unpaired 700 MHz spectrum in five major metropolitan markets (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco) with populations totaling 70 million.
AT&T asserted that the transaction was in the public interest because it will enable it to repurpose Qualcomm’s underutilized Lower 700 MHz D and E Block spectrum for the deployment of mobile broadband services by using supplemental downlink technology to couple it with paired spectrum that AT&T already holds.
The FCC said its analysis suggested that AT&T’s spectrum acquisition has the potential to cause some competitive and other public interest harms. It concluded, however, that these potential harms from AT&T’s acquisition of this unpaired spectrum could be mitigated with certain targeted conditions to prevent or limit any potential anticompetitive behavior.
“We conclude, based on the record before us and as discussed above, that this transaction —with AT&T’s plans to deploy supplemental downlink technology—holds the promise of meaningful transaction-specific public interest benefits that support the Commission approving the proposed transaction,” the FCC wrote. “In particular, we anticipate that the proposed transaction would facilitate the transition of underutilized unpaired 700 MHz spectrum towards mobile broadband use, thereby supporting our goal of expanding mobile broadband deployment throughout the country.”
Commissioner Michel Copps, in one of his last acts on the FCC, voted against the deal, saying he wanted stronger public interest conditions. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn only concurred, which was a lukewarm vote for the deal. She was concerned about interoperability, but chairman Genachowski promised an interoperability proceeding in the New Year.
That was enough to put it over the top.