AT&T’s coverage map.


FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today provided an update on next year’s auction of broadcast TV spectrum to wireless carriers and said that having two national carriers control the best spectrum is harmful to competition.
“Spectrum below 1 GHz—such as the Incentive Auction spectrum—has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances,” Wheeler wrote in a blog post. “The effect of such properties is that fewer base stations and other infrastructure are required to build out a mobile network. This makes low-band particularly important in rural areas. A legacy of earlier spectrum assignments, however, is that two national carriers control the vast majority of low-band spectrum. As a result, rural consumers are denied the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.”
Wheeler didn’t mention the two national carriers by name, but it’s pretty clear he was referring to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Those two companies want to be able to buy as much spectrum in the auction as they can afford, but FCC officials have proposed rules that would prevent them from doing so. AT&T threatened to boycott the auction, saying that bidding restrictions would primarily affect itself and Verizon.
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