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Report: AT&T and Verizon spent heavily lobbying for favorable LTE auction rules

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
March 25, 2014
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If AT&T and Verizon manage to shut out their smaller rivals in a critical LTE wireless auction, it would severely harm US wireless competition, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In a report it said that the pair of wireless giants spent nearly $30 million on lobbying last year, almost four times the $8 million paid out by Sprint and T-Mobile. The low-frequency 600MHz spectrum in question is highly valued for its long range and ability to penetrate buildings, necessitating fewer towers and lower infrastructure costs. AT&T and Verizon already control 74 percent of existing low-band frequencies, putting Sprint and T-Mobile at a significant disadvantage -- especially outside of cities. As a result, T-Mobile's CEO, John Legere has stressed the importance of the upcoming auction for the future of his company.

However, the rules for that auction have yet to be finalized by FCC chair Tom Wheeler. AT&T and Verizon believe they should be able to bid for as much spectrum as they want to in order to raise the maximum amount of cash. And given their combined 70 percent share of the US mobile market, it's likely the duo could easily outbid their smaller rivals. T-Mobile and Sprint, by contrast, believe that the amount of spectrum available to any given company should be capped. Backed by a report from the DOJ, they claim that would make for a more competitive market and result in lower prices for consumers. Because of those conflicting views, much of the reported lobbying money has gone toward studies supporting each camp's positions -- with the lion's sharing coming from AT&T and Verizon. Meanwhile, Wheeler hasn't given any hint as to which way he's leaning, but if you're thinking of becoming a wireless industry lobbyist, now's the time.

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