* Order will improve service of rural, regional wireless
* Airwaves in 700 MHz band highly valued for powerful signal
* Dish helped broker deal as part of mobile broadband
* Companies position themselves ahead of FCC's spectrum
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 U.S. telecommunications
regulators on Monday formally adopted an agreement by AT&T Inc
, Dish Network Corp and other wireless companies
to give smaller operators access to devices now made only for
The Federal Communications Commission's order, approved
without a public vote, makes official and elaborates upon a
multi-pronged deal brokered by agency staff and wireless
companies last month.
Participants made concessions in hopes of improving how they
use the airwaves that carry their wireless signals. The
agreement could also ultimately affect how much money the FCC
raises in January in its auction of spectrum, the agency's first
major spectrum auction since 2008.
Such an agreement has been a key policy goal of FCC Acting
Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn to help smaller wireless providers,
such as regional or rural carriers, gain access to more and
better devices to operate on their airwaves in the lower 700
AT&T owns a band of frequencies in the adjacent block and by
agreeing to "interoperability" of devices between its airwaves
and the ones in the nearby frequencies, it gives manufacturers
the incentive to make phones that would be usable for customers
of smaller providers as well as the second-biggest provider,
The airwaves in the 700 megahertz band are highly valued for
their powerful signal.
"For folks in rural areas in particular, this is going to
allow local providers to offer service not just on their systems
but also on AT&T systems," said Harold Feld, senior vice
president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.
In some areas, he said, interoperability may lead to more
roaming options or even give local providers a chance to grow
into regional ones.
In announcing the ruling, Clyburn praised the collaborative
efforts by AT&T, consumer advocacy groups, the Competitive
Carriers Association and Dish, which helped smaller wireless
carriers negotiate the interoperability deal with AT&T.
As part of the agreement, Dish promised to lower the power
in the so-called E block of frequencies that it owns, to reduce
the possibility of interference with signals sent on nearby
frequencies, which are owned by other companies including AT&T.
In return for its promise to lower power, Dish gets more
time and flexibility in building out the networks in that block
For Dish, the order is the first step in its strategy to
grow as a wireless competitor and expand in mobile broadband.
Dish has separately also asked the FCC to delay the deadline
for building networks on other airwaves it bought in 2012 and
for more flexibility in how it could use them.
The FCC sets deadlines and requirements for how - and how
quickly - the companies have to make use of the radio
frequencies they own.
The agency is currently reviewing Dish's further requests,
although it is unclear whether the new FCC chairman, Tom
Wheeler, whose nomination awaits Senate confirmation, would rule
to satisfy all of Dish's wants.
To sweeten the deal, Dish told the FCC that if the agency
gives its nod to all of the company's requests, it would invest
$1.56 billion in the upcoming auction of so-called H block
frequencies, scheduled for January.
The investment would set the bar for other bids in the
auction, whose proceedings will help fund a new network for
Congress has mandated that the FCC raise enough money to
build the public safety network, which makes Dish's bid
important as it could help avoid low offers or only one offer
expected to come from Sprint Corp.