The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to allow AT&T to buy $1.9 billion of spectrum from Qualcomm – a consolation prize after the agency helped torpedo AT&T’s attempt to merge with T-Mobile USA.
There was no immediate reaction from AT&T but the telecom giant often cited a need for more spectrum as one reason it wanted the merger.
Wireless companies are seeking more spectrum as new mobile devices, from tablet computers to smartphones, use more and more bandwidth. When AT&T gave up on its $39 billion merger with T-Mobile on Monday, it vowed to pursue other ways of increasing its wireless capacity.
In analyzing the Qualcomm sale, the FCC concluded that the potential anticompetitive harms could be mitigated by conditions, including requirements that AT&T not interfere with other companies’ networks; and abide by roaming regulations.
The commission voted 3-1 to approve the deal, with Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps dissenting.
Copps, who leaves office at the end of the month, argued that the sake of the spectrum licenses only consolidates control of bandwidth in the coveted 700 mhz band of spectrum.
“I could be persuaded, with the right set of pro-consumer conditions, to concur in the transaction,” he said in a 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.”
Copps and fellow Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted to approve the order, both said they wished that the commission had required AT&T to make its devices interoperable with other companies’ gadgets to allow for greater competition.
The advocacy group Free Press, which opposed both the Qualcomm and T-Mobile deals, expressed a similar sentiment.
“AT&T obviously wants more spectrum for itself, and less for potential competitors, but it doesn't need this spectrum to improve its own offerings,” said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood. “As the Commission's exhaustive review of the AT&T/T-Mobile transaction proved, AT&T can and should upgrade its own networks to provide better service to customers.”