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Sprint “keeping an eye” on broadcast incentive auction rules

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure called the upcoming offer of TV station spectrum to wireless companies as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire low band spectrum.”

But Claure’s enthusiasm was tempered by what the FCC may or may not do in terms of the broadcast incentive auction rules, hinting that Sprint’s participation in the auction is contingent on those rules.

“To us it is important to understand what the auction rules are going to be, to make sure that smaller carriers like us have a fair opportunity to acquire this competitive input,” said Claure during the company’s earnings call Tuesday. “As you know, AT&T and Verizon currently control over 75 percent of the old low band spectrum. We re looking at it every day we want to make sure that the rules are right.”

Reassuring investors that Sprint has the financial wherewithal to bid in the incentive auction (and, coincidentally, also reassuring broadcasters who want as many auction participants as possible to run up the prices,) Claure highlighted financial options Sprint could use to raise the necessary cash.

“We have different options that are predicated on potential debut issuance, potential equity issuance or a potential sale of our … spectrum that we won’t use,” said Claure. “I feel that we have very clear alternatives…if we decide to pursue the 600 mHz spectrum.”

Claure did not specifically specifically address the issue of a spectrum reserve for smaller carriers, which would benefit smaller carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile, Sprint and Dish have lobbied for the FCC to increase the reserve to 40 MHz of spectrum for smaller carriers.

Claire also did not address the FCC’s ongoing rework of the designated entity rules that Dish used to gain access to a swath of the AWS-3 spectrum at a substantial discount through two smaller companies.

Many, including GOP commissioner Ajit Pai have blasted Dish’s use of designated entities in the AWS-3 auction. Verizon went so far as to accuse Dish of collusion, presenting the findings of a study to the FCC. Dish says it did nothing wrong.

The Federal Communications Commission recently accepted the applications of SNR Wireless and Northstar Wireless, the two “designated entities” associated with Dish in the recently-completed AWS-3 auction. Opponents of these deals have until May 11 to comment on whether the FCC should approve the license transfers.