Adopting a Mid-Band Spectrum Screen for 5G Leadership

Joan Marsh
September 1, 2021
AT&T Policy Statements, Broadband Access and Affordability, Innovation and Technology

Adopting a Mid-Band Spectrum Screen for 5G Leadership

There is broad consensus that American leadership in the 5G economy depends in part on smart spectrum policy, with a sharp focus on building a strong and competitive ecosystem in mid-band allocations, where wide bands can be coupled with capabilities such as edge computing and network slicing to enable 5G to act as a catalyst for transforming industries and economies.

To begin a debate about how to build such an ecosystem, today we filed a petition that asks the FCC to adopt a separate spectrum screen for mid-band spectrum. Like the separate screens already established for high- and low-band spectrum, we believe that such a tool would assist the Commission in identifying spectrum aggregations that may cause competitive harm by allowing a licensee to hold so much mid-band spectrum in a given market that it becomes impossible for others to compete effectively.

To be clear, a spectrum screen is not a cap on how much spectrum any entity can hold. Rather, it is a filter that the FCC can use to identify spectrum acquisitions that trigger more detailed consideration of the potential for competitive harms. The screen allows the Commission to identify acquisitions that may raise competitive concerns from those which do not.  And if a spectrum acquisition would result in a single entity holding more than a third of the relevant frequencies in a market area, the screen is triggered, and the FCC will conduct a more fulsome inquiry into whether the acquisition will harm competition.

When LTE networks were coming to the fore, the Commission determined that frequencies below 1 GHz were critical to LTE competition and created a separate screen for this spectrum. Now, with 5G as the focus of investment and competition, it is clear that large blocks of mid-band spectrum are critical to 5G success. To the extent that such blocks become unduly concentrated in the hands of one or two licensees, 5G competition is likely to falter. Accordingly, just as it did for sub-1 GHz spectrum, we argue today that the FCC should adopt a mid-band screen for all allocations between 2.5 GHz and 6 GHz for all future spectrum acquisitions (except for those that result from Auction 110, for which the rules are already final).

This is a critical conversation that will impact the competitive landscape for the entire industry, and we look forward to participating in the important dialogue framed by our Petition.

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