AT&T Petition for Rulemaking Requesting Mid-Band Spectrum Screen

On September 1, 2021, AT&T Services, Inc. (“AT&T”) filed a Petition for Rulemaking asking the Commission to adopt a mid-band spectrum screen to address undue aggregation and ensure fair and efficient opportunities for all providers to acquire the spectrum.   First, AT&T argues that mid-band spectrum, which it defines as spectrum between 2.5 GHz and 6 GHz, is required for providers to deploy 5G networks.   While AT&T recognizes that legacy mobile spectrum between 600 MHz and 2.5 GHz has been used to deploy the first phases of may providers’ 5G networks, it argues that this spectrum is insufficient because its allocation has been in non-contiguous pairs with limited channel sizes, which cannot handle the demanding bandwidth and time-division duplexing requirements of 5G technologies.  Similarly, AT&T argues that high-band spectrum is insufficient because propagation limitations limit utilization of high-band spectrum for 5G purposes to areas with unusually dense demand.

Second, AT&T argues that the Commission should adopt a mid-band specific spectrum screen in order to ensure a level playing field and prevent anticompetitive foreclosure strategies.  AT&T proposes that the Commission adopt the same spectrum screen as that imposed for spectrum below 1 GHz: imposing an enhanced factor for transactional reviews where the proposed transaction would result in the provider acquiring more than 1/3 of the available spectrum.   Without such a spectrum screen, AT&T argues that anti-competitive mid-band spectrum strategies will be deployed in greater force.  AT&T’s Petition particularly focused on T-Mobile’s spectrum strategies, alleging that T-Mobile’s substantial mid-band spectrum holdings will make it more likely that T-Mobile will attempt to acquire more mid-band spectrum to foreclose AT&T’s, and other competitors, opportunities to compete.

Finally, AT&T argues that the Commission should adopt two other provisions as a part of its mid-band spectrum screen.  First, AT&T argues that the Commission must adopt a provider-specific review in implementing spectrum-aggregation limits in the auction context.  Second, AT&T argues the Commission must adopt divestiture requirements for secondary market transactions that implicate the mid-band spectrum screen.   AT&T alleges that both are required to ensure sufficient competition in the mid-band spectrum market.

AT&T notes that in general, it has been opposed to the Commission’s imposition of spectrum screens, however, the unique value of mid-band spectrum is such that a screen is warranted both for competition purposes and to ensure similar treatment of similarly valued spectrum by the Commission.

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