FCC Rejects T-Mobile Bid to Limit Spectrum for Verizon, AT&T

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A T-Mobile US Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission has denied T-Mobile US' request for more airwaves to be set aside for smaller wireless companies like itself to bid on during a government auction next year.

The unanimous vote Thursday by the five-member commission came after months of T-Mobile's lobbying for stricter limits for AT&T's and Verizon Communications' participation in the auction of prized low-frequency airwaves.

Reuters previously reported that agency staff had found existing restrictions were sufficient to ensure that smaller carriers get a chance to outbid Verizon and AT&T, which dominate those low frequencies.

The auction, tentatively slated to start in March, will be a landmark one for the U.S. wireless industry as it will give participants their first chance since 2008 to buy low-frequency airwaves, which are valued for their ability to carry heavy data over long distances and through obstacles such as buildings.

The FCC voted last year to curb participation of carriers that held dominant slices of low-frequency airwaves in each market by reserving a piece of spectrum for bidding only by non-dominant carriers, but not to the extent T-Mobile sought.

The vote was something of a compromise among the FCC's Democrats, who wanted to give smaller carriers a leg up while ensuring that restrictions on the big carriers wouldn't cut the proceeds of the auction, expected to be the agency's largest.

T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere on Twitter played down the policy loss, touting the existence of the reserved spectrum in the first place.

"Good news -- the reserve includes great quality spectrum & looks like the FCC will be monitoring closely so duopoly can't game the system," Legere tweeted, referring to the top two U.S. carriers, Verizon and AT&T.

T-Mobile (TMUS) shares were down 1.2 percent at $40.24 in afternoon trading, while Verizon (VZ) slipped 0.6 percent and AT&T (T) fell 1.6 percent.
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