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T-Mobile to FCC: Deny AT&T spectrum purchase in Kentucky [updated]

John J. Legere, president and chief executive officer, T-Mobile

T-Mobile is hell-bent on stopping AT&T from acquiring any more low-band spectrum, the most desirable airwaves for mobile services.

In a petition filed Monday night with the Federal Communications Commission, T-Mobile asks the agency to deny AT&T’s application for blocks of spectrum in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia it seeks to acquire from East Kentucky Network.

The petition is the latest salvo from T-Mobile, which is trying to convince the FCC it needs to level the playing field with AT&T and Verizon by increasing the amount of low-band spectrum it sets aside for smaller wireless companies in the broadcast incentive auction early next year. AT&T and Verizon already control more than 70 percent of low-band spectrum nationally and the upcoming broadcast incentive auction is likely the last chance any wireless company will have to grab large swaths of low-band spectrum.

“Once again, AT&T is attempting to shut out wireless competition by acquiring a dangerously high concentration of low band spectrum in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio. The FCC should just say enough is enough. It’s time to save wireless choice,” said Andy Levin, T-Mobile’s senior vice president of government affairs.

T-Mobile argues that AT&T’s acquisition would harm consumers, diminish investment and reduce competition because it would exceed the FCC’s “new standard” to prevent any operator from owning more than a third of the spectrum in a market. In the Charleston-Huntington area, AT&T has 60 percent share of the market, T-Mobile said in its petition.

AT&T said in a blog post it needs the spectrum to build out its LTE network in rural markets and that the acquisition will not reduce competition.

“The proposed transaction also has no adverse competitive effects. AT&T will not exceed the Commission’s spectrum aggregation screen and — because the spectrum at issue currently sits completely fallow and unused – the deal will not reduce any actual competition,” wrote Joan Marsh, AT&T’s vice president, federal regulatory.

Marsh also accuses T-Mobile of having “disdain” for investing in rural markets. “T-Mobile has only limited plans to invest in the rural markets covered by these licenses, particularly those in West Virginia,” Marsh wrote, adding that the company’s resources would be better spent “investing in rural America” than trying to block AT&T.

Much to the disappointment of T-Mobile and other smaller carriers, the FCC is expected to stick with the amount of spectrum reserve it intends to set aside in the incentive auction, instead of increasing it.

But until the FCC’s decision is final, T-Mobile is still fighting, releasing Tuesday an animated video slamming claiming its cleaning up a “broken, arrogant industry” as it battles against the “dark force plotting in the shadows” to dominate low-band, the most valuable spectrum.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on final rules for the broadcast incentive auction on July 16.