Lawmakers Question FCC’s Use of Spectrum Tool

WASHINGTON: Two key lawmakers are raising red flags over how the Federal Communications Commission determines spectrum license concentration. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden, chairman of the tech subcommittee, sent a letter to FCC chief Julius Genachowski questioning the commission’s application of its spectrum screen tool to the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.

The screen is used to evaluate the impact of the merger on a market-by-market basis to make sure no single carrier dominates the spectrum in a service area. The screen replaced a previous cap of 55 MHz and provides more leeway for the determination.

In its rejection of the merger, the FCC noted that it tweaked the spectrum screen, something it said it does regularly during merger reviews. The adjustment worked against AT&T, which spit nails, according to Politico. AT&T said the screen metric was changed from the one that led to FCC staff approval of its acquisition of Qualcomm spectrum.

Walden and Upton wanted to know why the FCC doesn’t have a formal process for adjusting the spectrum screen. They said the absence of one “has resulted in uncertainty as to the FCC’s process, reasoning and rationale.” They asked Genachowski several questions regarding the use of the screen, including whether he alone had discretion in adjusting it. Among other details, they also asked if the commission ever sought comment on using the process, and how it adjusts for changing market conditions. The lawmakers asked for a response by Dec. 19.

~ Deborah D. McAdams, Television Broadcast

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