A coalition of broadcasters, wireless providers, and chip makers Thursday urged the FCC to adopt guidelines to minimize potential conflict between broadcasters and wireless companies as the agency strives to cope with rising stress on bandwidth. Because of ever-increasing demand for mobile devices, the FCC proposed in September that broadcasters voluntarily give up some of their allotted bandwidth in exchange for a share of the proceeds when that bandwidth is auctioned to wireless broadband providers. The National Association of Broadcasters initially worried that broadcasters in smaller markets would be more likely to give up spectrum than those in urban markets. But it has turned out that a number of broadcasters in larger markets are willing to sell spectrum rights. Coalition goals cover a range of technical issues that are intended to protect TV and wireless signals against interference from each other and for minimum and maximum size specifications for individual segments of spectrum. The coalition also specifically calls for the FCC to expedite spectrum coordination with Canada and Mexico. In addition to NAB coalition members include Intel, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Qualcomm. You can read a copy of the coalition letter here.
The reason: T-Mobile probably will now end its effort to block Verizon Wireless’ deal to pay nearly $4B for Comcast and other cable operators’ wireless spectrum — part of a broad peace agreement between the companies. Verizon Wireless said today that it will turn over to T-Mobile spectrum that reaches 60M potential customers (including areas of the northeast where T-Mobile is weak) in return for cash and spectrum that reaches 22M people (including several areas in California). While the companies didn’t say how much cash was involved, Bernstein Research figures it’s about $260M. But the arrangement “is contingent on the closing” of Verizon Wireless’ deals with cable, which are being reviewed by the Justice Department and the FCC. Last week T-Mobile told the FCC that Verizon’s pact with cable “poses grave competitive concerns” and would significantly diminish competition for wireless broadband in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Verizon’s new deal with T-Mobile also requires FCC approval. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead says that the T-Mobile agreement “is further evidence of the importance of a secondary spectrum market to give the companies the flexibility to exchange or acquire spectrum to meet customers’ growing demands for wireless data services.”
Dish is up 9.1% in afternoon trading partly based on a theory that the satellite company is in AT&T’s sights now that it has abandoned its effort to merge with T-Mobile. Stifel Nicolaus’ Christopher King is among the analysts who say that it makes sense: AT&T craves spectrum, but it has few places to get it. The Justice Department and FCC nixed the idea of a merger with another wireless phone company. Cable operators also are out after their recent agreement to sell the spectrum they control to Verizon Wireless. That would seem to leave Dish, even though it was one of the loudest opponents of AT&T’s deal with T-Mobile. Dish founder Charlie Ergen has been amassing spectrum — including some in the 700 megahertz band, which is where AT&T is building its 4G network — to help create his own national broadband and video-streaming service. The satellite company has said that it would like to find a partner to help pay for his ambitious plan, and identified T-Mobile as a possibility. And even though Ergen says Verizon and AT&T need another competitor, he didn’t rule out a deal with AT&T when asked last month about the possibility. “If the merger is not allowed then it could be” an option, he said in a conference call with analysts.
For the last week or so we’ve been fascinated by the possibility that Verizon will create a streaming video business. But don’t forget Dish Network, which also owns Blockbuster video. “If Verizon can do it, why can’t we?” Dish Network CEO Joseph Clayton asks Bloomberg. He added that “there’s not a lot of infrastructure you have to put in place for this. The expense is the programming.” Dish is already talking to TV networks about potential licensing deals. Dish also wants to amass wireless spectrum so it can do an end-run around cable and phone company broadband services. Clayton notes that Dish has more opportunities now than it did just a few weeks ago to forge partnerships that might give it better access to the airwaves — and offer a full range of video, voice, and data services.
T-Mobile is a potential ally if its merger with AT&T collapses following Justice Department and FCC attacks on the $39B deal. That appears more likely today: Justice put its antitrust case against the companies
You rarely see a company that does as much business with federal regulators as AT&T does attack them as ferociously as the phone giant did today. AT&T is livid over an FCC staff study that concluded its $39B wireless phone acquisition of T-Mobile would be anti-competitive and result in lost jobs. The report, released yesterday, ”is so obviously one-sided that any fair-minded person reading it is left with the clear impression that it is an advocacy piece, and not a considered analysis,” AT&T Senior EVP External & Legislative Affairs Jim Cicconi said in a blog post. He adds that the report “cherry-picks facts to support its views, and ignores facts that don’t,” and “treats its own speculations as if they were fact.” Calling the staff effort ”not the fair and objective analysis to which any party is entitled,” Cicconi also blasted the FCC for releasing the document. AT&T withdrew its merger application at the agency after the FCC moved to block it, although the phone company hasn’t formally abandoned the effort to acquire T-Mobile. By making the report public, he says, the FCC showed that “this was intended more for advocacy and to impact public perceptions. And neither is a proper basis for action by a regulatory agency.”
DirecTV CFO Patrick Doyle seems to like the idea of merging his company with its closest rival, Dish Network. “Ten years ago we had a deal on the table,” he says. “The strength that you’d have in negotiations would be tremendous.” But he says a combination probably wouldn’t fly in Washington following the Justice Department’s recent decision to fight AT&T’s merger deal with T-Mobile. That “adds more uncertainty to where we are in the merger and antitrust environment.” Meanwhile, he doesn’t seem ready to say that DirecTV needs a deal despite the company’s lackluster domestic subscriber growth in June — to 19.4M, up 4% vs. the same period last year. Doyle attributes the weakness to defections by people who decided they can no longer afford pay TV. “We hope they’re not gone forever,” he says. Yet people who kept their satellite service are spending less. ”We’re not seeing the type of demand that we’d like to see” for pay-per-view movies as well as other events, including fights, he says. As economic pressures grow, controlling programming costs has become “the No 1 issue for the industry. … We’re negotiating harder on marginal (channels).”