California congresswoman Anna Eshoo alleged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) bent the rules for Verizon and AT&T, allowing the operators to unfairly pick up large amounts of mmWave spectrum through recent company acquisitions.
Verizon shelled out $3.1 billion to acquire Straight Path Communications and its licences in the 39GHz and 28GHz bands in May 2017, while AT&T recently completed an acquisition of FiberTower and its 39GHz mmWave holdings for a cool $207 million.
In a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, Eshoo claimed the agency allowed “Straight Path and FiberTower to sell billions of dollars of public assets for private gain”, despite the commission finding both companies failed to meet spectrum buildout requirements.
She argued FCC policies “unambiguously” required the companies to forfeit the unused licences back to the commission and blasted the FCC for allowing them to “profit handsomely from their wrongdoing” at the expense of taxpayers.
Eshoo also alleged the Straight Path Communications deal will distort FCC plans for a 28GHz auction in November because Verizon already gained a “controlling interest” in the band and holds all the cards by being the only operator able to aggregate sufficient capacity in the band to justify an additional large investment.
The congresswoman called on Pai to reverse both decisions and reclaim the Straight Path Communications and FiberTower licences for auction: “Spectrum assignments should be neutral, transparent and efficient, and the current Bureau-level decisions are none of these things.”
Eshoo’s argument echoes calls from the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and T-Mobile US for the commission to put Straight Path Communications and FiberTower’s licences up for auction.
In late February, the CCA filed a petition asking the FCC to reverse its Straight Path Communications decision, noting the deal pushes Verizon’s holdings well above spectrum aggregation limits in several key markets.
Earlier this week, the CCA also called for a stay on AT&T’s FiberTower approval on the basis the decision was based on “an incomplete and flawed public interest analysis” and “harms competition, the economy and, most concerningly, consumers”.
CCA CEO Steven Berry said in a statement the approval amounted to “special treatment” for AT&T and FiberTower, and added “the commission should not be in the position of choosing winners and losers”.