If you thought the sparring between AT&T and Sprint ended with the demise late last year of AT&T's bid to buy T-Mobile, think again.
AT&T is once again on opposite sides of a major telecom issue with Sprint, a fierce critic of the AT&T-T-Mobile merger, and several other smaller rivals. The issue this time is over legislation aimed at freeing up more spectrum to meet the public's growing demand for wireless technologies.
Sprint, along with T-Mobile, C-Spire Wireless, Cricket and other smaller wireless operators want members of Congress to give the Federal Communications Commission discretion to design future spectrum auctions as it sees fit. They called on lawmakers Wednesday to strip a provision from House spectrum legislation that would bar the FCC from imposing restrictions on who can bid for spectrum given up for auction by broadcasters.
"The proposed provision would substantially limit the FCC's ability to promote competition and a competitive wireless marketplace for consumers throughout America. It would facilitate spectrum warehousing, inefficient use of scarce spectrum resources, and reduce spectrum auction revenues to the U.S. Treasury," they wrote in a letter to the House and Senate payroll tax conference committee.
The payroll tax cut package could include the spectrum legislation.
The provision in the House spectrum bill is aimed at ensuring the FCC can't keep the nation's two biggest wireless providers ,Verizon Wireless and AT&T, from participating in future spectrum auctions. Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., who drafted the House spectrum legislation, said last month that he doesn't think it's good public policy to exclude any market players from participating in spectrum auctions.
AT&T has echoed Walden's view on the issue. "Auctions should be open, not closed. Any qualified carrier, including those on today's letter, should have a chance to bid on any spectrum available in an auction," AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi said in a statement. "This group, however, wants the FCC to stack the deck in its favor. Congress is right to resist this notion."
The spectrum language is just one of many thorny issues lawmakers are trying to resolve as part of the negotiations over the payroll tax deal. One of the biggest issues is how to pay for the cost of the payroll tax package.