| WASHINGTON, April 25
WASHINGTON, April 25 AT&T Inc on Thursday
slammed the U.S. Justice Department for what it called "blatant
favoritism" toward smaller wireless rivals in recommending that
regulators help them compete in the forthcoming spectrum
Eager to control more airwaves and satisfy a booming demand
for wireless services, mobile companies are hoping to influence
the Federal Communications Commission as it drafts rules for an
auction that will profoundly shake up ownership of highly
valuable low-frequency spectrum.
In a filing this month, the Justice Department asked the FCC
to craft the rules in a way designed to promote competition, by
ensuring that the top two providers, Verizon Communications Inc
and AT&T, do not "foreclose" access or otherwise shut out
the smaller Sprint Nextel Corp and Deutsche Telekom AG's
In a response made public on Thursday, AT&T said the Justice
Department approach amounted to "rigging spectrum auction to
favor Sprint and T-Mobile" and would not only be unlawful but
also risk jeopardizing the complex auction.
"To the extent Sprint and T-Mobile now conclude that they
desire or need spectrum in the upcoming auction, they are
perfectly capable of bidding for it and paying the market price
like every other auction participant," Wayne Watts, AT&T's
senior executive vice president and general counsel, wrote in
the letter to FCC's five commissioners.
Watts added that both Sprint and T-Mobile are in merger
negotiations that could boost their finances. Sprint is weighing
rival bids from Japan's SoftBank Corp and Dish Network
, while T-Mobile is working on a deal with MetroPCS
The FCC auction of the low-frequency airwaves, valued for
their ability to better reach through walls and other obstacles,
would sell to wireless providers spectrum that now belongs to
televisions stations. It would be held in 2014 or later.
Congress has directed the FCC to raise enough money through
the process to reimburse broadcasters, fund a new public safety
network and return some money to the Treasury.
Last week, six Republican lawmakers from the House of
Representatives wrote to the FCC warning that following the
Justice Department's cue - putting caps on how much spectrum one
provider can own or otherwise limiting AT&T's and Verizon's
participation in the auction - could lead to lower bids or even
less spectrum being sold in the auction.
Sprint and T-Mobile, the No. 3 and No. 4 U.S. wireless
providers, have lobbied for assurances they would be able to go
to bat against their larger competitors.
On Thursday, T-Mobile USA's Tom Sugrue, senior vice
president of government affairs, said the company agreed with
competition experts at the Department of Justice and stood
behind its own previous comments to the FCC "advocating for
strong competitive rules" in the auction.
Sprint did not immediately comment on AT&T's filing but has
previous called the Justice Department's approach "absolutely
right." The Justice Department and Verizon declined comment.