WASHINGTON, April 23 The top U.S.
telecommunications regulator on Wednesday said he was
unconvinced by AT&T Inc's threat to sit out next year's
major auction of wireless spectrum over proposed restrictions on
AT&T, the second biggest U.S. wireless carrier, last week
said it may choose to skip the so-called incentive auction of
valuable airwaves scheduled for next year if the Federal
Communications Commission adopts rules that reserve some of the
spectrum for smaller nationwide carriers.
"I find it hard to believe that somebody who has advocated
so forcefully about why is it absolutely essential that they
have spectrum like this would pass on the opportunity," FCC
Chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters on Wednesday.
"I have a hard time envisioning this once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity for this kind of beachfront spectrum being something
that people throw up their hands and walk away from."
Wheeler's plan, which the FCC is expected to vote on at a
May 15 meeting, would reserve up to 30 megahertz of spectrum in
each market for bidding only by carriers that control less than
one-third of low-frequency airwaves there.
That would benefit the No. 3 and No. 4 carriers, Sprint Corp
and T-Mobile USA, as it would largely limit the
two biggest carriers, Verizon Communications Inc and
The airwaves that will be sold are particularly valued for
their reach and strength.
Lack of AT&T's participation could put a squeeze on how much
cash the FCC raises in the sale of airwaves. The FCC faces a
congressional mandate to raise enough money to fund a new $7
billion public safety network and pay back TV stations for
giving up the airwaves that will be sold in the auction.
However, asked what FCC may do to compel AT&T to
participate, Wheeler said:
"Nobody is compelling anybody to participate in the spectrum
auction. Whether the broadcasters sell or the wireless carriers
buy is entirely a function of their own free will and a
marketplace that we create."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)