Mobile

The FCC is dragging its feet on wireless spectrum, says AT&T

Echoing the sentiments of its competitors, AT&T today discussed the growing need for more wireless spectrum in the US and criticized the FCC’s inability to open up more spectrum, in its fourth quarter earnings call.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the wireless industry is in the midst of tremendous growth, but “this growth cannot continue without more spectrum being cleared and brought to market.” He pointed out that the last big spectrum auction by the FCC was five years ago and that it seems like the agency is delaying its efforts to free up more spectrum.

“It appears the FCC is intent on picking winners and losers rather than letting the market work,” Stephenson said.

Strong words against the FCC aren’t unusual for mobile carriers, but I also got the sense that AT&T is particularly ticked off this time around given the agency’s hand in killing the T-Mobile merger, which cost the company $4 billion during the last quarter.

To deal with the massive increase in mobile data growth, Stephenson said, AT&T will “manage usage-based data plans, increased pricing and managing the speeds of the highest volume users.” The company should still be able to continue its LTE rollout with its current spectrum, and Stephenson noted that the technology is 30-40 percent more efficient than 3G. But he added, “LTE is important, but it is not the silver bullet in terms of capacity planning. What that means is that to meet customer demand we need to continue our spectrum push.”

“We have an industry clearly stuck in creating capacity,” Stephenson said. “Clearly it’s time for Congress and the FCC to step up.”

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