Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Wireless’
May 13th, 2015 at 8:03 pm
The Two Faces of T-Mobile

The recent release of the Apple Watch was a momentous occasion that has become routine for American consumers: another breakthrough mobile product hitting the marketplace. Whether new devices or continuous improvements to smartphones and other devices on which we all rely, almost all of us use gadgets that just ten years ago would have been considered science fiction.

Less well known to consumers is the technical foundation of the entire ecosystem upon which such devises operate. Specifically, wireless spectrum is the invisible infrastructure that carries data between devices and to the broader Internet. Wireless companies compete fiercely for this resource so that they can provide good service for their customers.
 
That’s why – despite the fact that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is auctioning off coveted broadcast spectrum next year, an eternity in tech terms – the jockeying between potential bidders has already started. Two of the major players in particular, Sprint and T-Mobile, have been ceaselessly calling for the FCC to create auction rules that benefit them at the expense of their competitors. Their latest request is for a larger set-aside to limit the amount of spectrum on which competitors AT&T and Verizon can bid. 

This isn’t the first time the two companies have made such a request.  The FCC didn’t accept it last time, and it shouldn’t now as the only change is that Sprint and T-Mobile now are pushing their shared agenda through the recently (and conveniently) formed “Save Wireless Choice” coalition.

This is a terrible idea for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Sprint and T-Mobile are dynamic companies that compete fiercely in the wireless industry. Don’t just take our word for it. On a recent call with Wall Street analysts, T-Mobile CEO John Legere bragged that T-Mobile has “a great spectrum portfolio. That’s allowed us to be smart and opportunistic,” and claimed that the company was “off to an incredible start to 2015 with the best customer growth in the industry fueled by disruptive Un-carrier moves and the network that continues to be America’s fastest.”  Similarly, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure asserted that he “couldn’t be more confident that now [Sprint has] the right plan to be successful” and acknowledged Sprint’s “rich spectrum portfolio.”
 
Legere and Claure’s comments to Wall Street make their plea to the FCC – that they cannot compete with AT&T and Verizon in the upcoming auction or in the industry long-term – completely disingenuous. Furthermore, Sprint chose to sit out of the recent AWS-3 auction, and it was DISH, not AT&T or Verizon, that outbid T-Mobile most on licenses it sought but didn’t win.
 
Indeed, it was DISH’s shady dealings during the AWS-3 auction that demonstrate the danger of rules that favor certain players over others in the marketplace. DISH used shell companies to take advantage of the FCC’s Designated Entity program, a program that is supposed to help small companies buy spectrum by giving them a discount.  That sleight of hand with DISH will cost taxpayers a stunning $3.3 billion unless the FCC investigates and rejects the taxpayer-funded discount.
 
At the end of the day, Sprint and T-Mobile are massive, competitive companies backed by large, foreign corporations, Softbank and Deutsch Telekom. Even if that were not the case, the recent experience with DISH should be a giant red flag about the unintended consequences of rules that favor certain companies.
 
In order for consumers to continue reaping the benefits of the wireless revolution, they need more spectrum to be allocated in the most efficient way possible. In the 2016 incentive auction, that means straightforward rules that treat all bidders equally. This principle has taken us to where we are right now, and it would be a mistake to jeopardize this progress by giving in to the self-serving pleading of two companies.

June 11th, 2012 at 1:59 pm
Coalition to FCC: Approve Verizon/SpectrumCo Deal Now

In a letter delivered on Friday, a coalition of 14 free market organizations, including the Center for Individual Freedom (“CFIF”), urged the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to approve a private deal between Verizon and cable companies that will free currently unused spectrum to help alleviate the growing “spectrum crunch” that many wireless consumers – particularly those in densely populated areas of the country – are already feeling.

The letter, which was organized by ATR’s Digital Liberty, reads in part:

Demand for wireless broadband is more than doubling annually, but vast swaths of valuable spectrum – the lifeblood of mobile communications – remain unavailable to wireless carriers. Consumers in densely populated urban areas are already suffering from inadequate wireless capacity. While meeting this robust demand will require wireless carriers to adopt an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach, increasing spectrum availability is unquestionably the most fundamental and cost-effective means to meet wireless demand.

Unfortunately, spectrum auctions that will enable wireless carriers to bid on additional spectrum remain years away. Verizon Wireless’s proposed transfer presents a rare and crucial opportunity to deploy currently unused spectrum for wireless broadband. The spectrum at issue is ideally situated in the 1700/2100 MHz AWS bands, covering over 80 percent of the U.S. population (259 million POPs). Consumers will see substantial net benefits from expanded coverage enabled by additional spectrum, especially compared to more costly and time-consuming undertakings such as cell splitting.

With demand for wireless broadband more than doubling annually, the FCC’s own estimates predict that demand for wireless spectrum will exceed supply in 2013.  Yet Obama’s FCC has done little if anything at all to make additional and much-needed spectrum available to wireless network operators. 

In fact, under the Obama Administration the FCC has worked to delay and outright block private-sector deals to alleviate the growing spectrum crunch.  Last year, the FCC took unprecedented steps to block the then-pending AT&T-T-Mobile merger, going so far as to publicly release a biased draft staff report in opposition to the merger that the commissioners themselves never approved and quite  possibly didn’t even read.  Had that merger been approved, AT&T was promising to deploy high-speed mobile broadband to 95 percent of all Americans.  And the FCC has been over-scrutinizing and slow-walking approval of the Verizon-SpectrumCo deal since December.

Read the full coalition letter to the FCC here.

May 11th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
The FCC: Where “economic logic does not penetrate”

When it comes to highlighting federal inanity, Holman Jenkins hits a home run with his take in a Wall Street Journal article on the current FCC’s bureaucratic approach to the wireless industry.

As Jenkins describes the situation, “Like food rotting on a dock, only politics and policy prevents spectrum from getting where it’s needed.”

Jenkins goes on to articulate the point by aptly noting that wireless companies are “being starved of spectrum [their] customers would willingly pay for because of an archaic government allocation system in which economic logic does not penetrate.”

So why care?  Primarily because the wireless industry’s massive investment involved in developing spectrum for the public’s use is one of the few unmitigated bright spots in the US economy. Wireless carriers delivered approximately $27 billion in investment in U.S. mobile networks last year alone.  And continued wireless investment holds the potential to revolutionize our nation’s educational system, healthcare and so much more.

In employment terms, a Deloitte study last fall pegged 4G wireless investment as creating between 371,000 and 771,000 new jobs.  That includes the teams that deploy new cell towers, engineers and software developers, among others.

But the government’s dithering threatens to sideline billions in new investment that would otherwise be pumped into the economy and drive these benefits for consumers.

What’s especially ironic about the delays is that Obama’s FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the “looming spectrum crisis” that threatens “continued innovation in broadband wireless.”  Similar acknowledgements continually have been made directly from the White House.  Yet, when it comes to spectrum policy, the FCC and the Obama Administration have been driven by politics and ideology instead of sound economics and logic — a mindset that not only exacerbates the spectrum problem, but threatens (if not stops cold) private investment to deal with the problem.

Indeed, when wireless providers seek to overcome government obstacles to spectrum and move to address the crunch on their respective networks, they are met with hostility.  Jenkins points to the two obvious examples:

To meet demand of its customers for more and more bandwidth, AT&T laid out $39 billion for T-Mobile, a retreating, second-rank player, only to have the proposal nixed by Washington after many months of torture.

Verizon has been undergoing months of torture over its proposal to buy, for $3.9 billion, several blocks of spectrum sitting idle in the hands of cable TV companies.

That, coupled with the FCC’s counterproductive obsession with putting use conditions on auctioned spectrum to the point of rendering it less desirable or frankly, economically unfeasible, is only making the spectrum problem worse.

Everyone, including the FCC and the Obama Administration, agrees that the spectrum crunch must be resolved… and fast.  “The solution,” as Jenkins points out, “is to permit any spectrum that’s immediately deployable to be immediately deployed by those who can make use of it.”  And it must be deployed without burdensome government conditions and discriminatory bidder qualifications to ensure its most efficient use.

In other words, the FCC and Obama Administration must set aside politics and ideology, stop trying to pick winners and losers in an effort to shape some utopian vision of perfect competition in an already ultra-competitive market and allocate more spectrum for consumer use… now.

December 7th, 2011 at 5:27 pm
Verizon/Cable Commercial Spectrum Deal Demonstrates Market at Work
Posted by Print

While federal bureaucrats dither, the ever-evolving telecom market continues to move at warp speed.  As Holman Jenkins of The Wall Street Journal observed, “The half life of regulatory know-it-allism gets shorter and shorter.”

Under an agreement announced last week to rave reviews, Verizon will pay $3.6 billion for 20 MHz of  unutilized spectrum on which Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks – collectively part of the SpectrumCo joint venture – were sitting.  As part of the agreement, Verizon will also offer cable television services for those entities while they can in turn resell Verizon’s wireless service.  But here’s the takeaway point of it all.  Spectrum is the critical conduit by which wireless technology operates, and this cooperative accord will more promptly make idle spectrum available for consumer use via such cutting-edge devices as tablets and smartphones.  By way of contrast, it would take years under even the rosiest scenarios before Congress and federal regulators got around to making desperately-needed spectrum available for consumer use.

With consumer demand continually placing greater demands upon finite capacity, this deal will increase wireless breathing room.  In so doing, it will thereby ensure better customer service and open more doors to foreseeable and unforeseeable innovations.  It’s a win for consumers, and it once again illustrates the possibilities that markets provide when we allow them to operate more freely and cooperatively.

July 14th, 2011 at 10:14 am
CFIF Urges Support for Wireless Tax Fairness Act to Prevent Higher Taxes on Wireless Services
Posted by Print

In a letter sent yesterday to every member of the House Judiciary Committee, the Center for Individual Freedom (“CFIF”) joined with other free market organizations collectively representing millions of American taxpayers to urge support of the Wireless Tax Fairness Act (H.R. 1002 / S.543).

The Wireless Tax Fairness Act would put a five-year freeze on attempts by state and local governments to raise taxes on wireless services.  The legislation is being marked up today by the House Judiciary Committee.

The letter, which was organized by Americans for Tax Reform’s Digital Liberty project, reads in part:

Across the country, state and local governments are putting a substantial burden on consumers by raising discriminatory taxes on wireless services to fund special interest projects and cover up overspending addictions.  Today, the average consumer pays upwards of 16 percent in taxes on their wireless bill every month.  In some localities, wireless taxes have skyrocketed to well over 25 percent.

A federal solution to curbing wireless taxation has become imperative.  The mandatory freeze on wireless taxes under H.R. 1002/S. 543 is a pro-consumer, pro-business, anti-tax, and bipartisan solution to this growing problem.”

Read the full letter here.

April 7th, 2011 at 4:18 pm
The FCC’s Wireless Data Roaming Mandates Are Illegal, Unwise
Posted by Print

One would think the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had learned its lesson by now.

In the past calendar year, the FCC’s extralegal power grabs have brought judicial rebuke from a unanimous Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, widespread public opposition and rare bipartisan Congressional condemnation.  But instead of internalizing those lessons, the FCC has once again endeavored beyond its legal authority by voting to impose data roaming mandates on private wireless carriers.  In a correspondence to the FCC, CFIF set forth the ways in which its latest rogue action is not only without legal foundation, but also unwise as a matter of public policy.

First, Section 332 of the Communications Act explicitly states that private mobile service providers “shall not be treated as a common carrier for any purpose under this Act.”  By  requiring wireless providers to forcibly enter agreements with other wireless carriers and allow non-customers to roam on their data networks, the FCC has violated that express provision. 

Second, a vibrant market for data roaming agreements already exists, meaning that this FCC action is unnecessary.  Carriers large and small already engage in very high rates of partnership, including Rural Cellular Association (RCA) members.  These agreements cover 3G and even 4G networks, contrary to extremists’ claims.  Indeed, numerous smaller carriers currently advertise nationwide broadband data coverage despite possessing relatively narrow license areas, meaning that they already have secured data roaming agreements.  Further, the prices negotiated in roaming agreements continue to decline. 

Third, the FCC’s bureaucratic intrusion into this realm will have the perverse effect of discouraging new investment and job creation in this cutting-edge sector.  After all, the FCC’s mandates will create incentives to piggyback on other networks rather than invest in new ones.  Carriers must be able to differentiate themselves and compete against counterpart carriers in the free market, which the FCC’s proposed mandates will undercut.  As data use continues to increase and smart phones impose new demands on network capacity, the inevitable result will be congestion, delay, fewer jobs and less investment.

Today’s FCC vote thus exceeds its legal authority and undermines new investment, while ignoring the fact that data roaming agreements are already prevalent.  It merely provides the latest evidence that the rogue FCC must be brought back to Earth, whether via Congress or the courts.