FCC grants assignment of Qualcomm D, E Block licenses to AT&T

The FCC approved the assignment Dec. 22 of Qualcomm’s D and E Block licenses in the lower 700MHz band to AT&T subject to some restrictions.

The order grants a petition from the companies to allow AT&T to purchase 6MHz of unpaired 700MHz spectrum nationwide and an additional 6MHz of unpaired 700MHz spectrum in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco for $1.925 billion.

The transaction will enable AT&T to repurpose the spectrum for broadband services. According to AT&T, the company will use carrier aggregation technology to bond the unpaired spectrum with paired spectrum it already holds. The new spectrum will add increased capacity to AT&T’s LTE network once the LTE Advanced standards are released.

In its order granting license assignment, the commission said its analysis of the transaction suggests the deal has the potential to harm to competition and other public interests. However, the harms can be mitigated by imposing certain conditions on the assignment to limit or prevent potential anti-competitive behavior, the order said.

“In particular, we conclude that our competitive concerns can be mitigated by ensuring that AT&T’s use of the newly acquired spectrum does not impede actual and potential competitors’ operation on neighboring spectrum in the provision of broadband services, and that AT&T cannot use the Qualcomm spectrum in a way that deprives other providers of the benefits of the commission’s roaming rules,” it said.

The commission conditioned its approval on a few technical considerations intended to ensure third parties can make full use of other lower-700MHz spectrum. These include limiting AT&T’s use of the spectrum to the same power limits and antenna height restrictions that apply to licensees of the lower 700MHz A and B block; prohibiting AT&T from using the licenses for uplink transmissions; and other restrictions to avoid “undue interference” to operations by lower A, B or C Block licenses.

The petition was granted with commissioner Michael Copps dissenting. In a statement released with the order, Copps said granting the assignment will “concentrate even more highly valuable 700MHz spectrum” in the hands of AT&T and Verizon.

“I could be persuaded, with the right set of pro-consumer conditions, to concur in the transaction,” Copps said in the statement. “While much of the competitive analysis in today’s order is strong, the conditions the commission does attach strike me as falling short of advancing the public interest demand.”