Posted by: Bob Quinn on May 6, 2013 at 10:15 am
Every three months or so, the FCC’s 700 MHz Interoperability Docket finds its way into the Washington media. Given the recent announcement of both new and interim FCC Chairpersons and their coming agendas, I expect the issue to continue to get coverage, so let’s recap the issue and status in that proceeding.
When the FCC created the lower 700 MHz Band Plan, it placed mobile broadband A, B and C Block spectrum adjacent to spectrum used for broadcast television, most significantly, Channel 51 stations. This created substantial interference issues (as well as build out issues due to exclusion zones created around Channel 51 license areas), particularly for A Block license holders, due to the presence of high powered broadcast signals in nearby spectrum.
At auction, markets being what they are, those disadvantages impacted the value of the A Block spectrum, which was sold at a significant discount to other available spectrum. While many regional and smaller competitors purchased A Block licenses, AT&T avoided the A Block and instead purchased licenses at auction and in the secondary market in the B and C bands. Almost immediately after the auction ended, however, the purchasers of the A Block licenses began arguing that any handset used by AT&T to receive B or C Block signals should also be capable of operating on the A Block as well, making all of the spectrum bands “interoperable” – thus the name for our proceeding. Those carriers asserted that handset manufacturers would never make devices just for them, and that the only way they would be able to obtain the latest and greatest technology would be if they could piggy-back on AT&T’s supposedly greater purchasing power.