Flashback: Wireless, Competition and the National Broadband Plan

Kudos to Politico's Morning Tech for dusting off this January 4, 2010 filing from the Department of Justice which Politico offers may offer a few clues as to how DOJ might receive the AT&T-T-Mobile merger. The gist of the argument, filed as part of its comments on the National Broadband Plan, went like this: High-speed wireless service could serve as a competitive check on wired broadband providers, and there are a few ways to promote that competition. Freeing up spectrum is key, DOJ antitrust lawyers wrote, as is stimulating competition in the wireless market.

"Promoting competition," the DOJ concluded, "is likely to take the form of enabling additional entry and expansion by wireless broadband providers," among other things. Justice could adopt a tough line on a merger that would reduce the number of major wireless carriers.

Recall, too, that on the same day, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration filed comments, too, at the Federal Communications Commission.

"A key question looking forward," wrote NTIA head Lawrence Strickling "is whether emerging 'fourth generation' (4G) wireless services will have price and performance characteristics that might make them a viable alternative to wireline services for a significant number of customers."

The NTIA filing reads: "The next several years will test the limits of wireless broadband, including the adequacy of in-building coverage and the ability of wireless networks to accommodate large numbers of data-intensive users. It remains to be seen, for example, whether WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology services will be offered at prices and on terms (e.g., speed and quality) that make them attractive to wireline users. The [FCC] also must keep in mind that the two largest US wireless providers, Verizon and AT&T, also offer wireline services in major portions of the country, raising the question of whether these providers will market these services as replacements for wireline services, either within the region where they provide wireline services or at all."

"Given the projections of explosive growth in wireless bandwidth requirements," NTIA wrote, "a primary tool for promoting broadband competition should be to make more spectrum available for broadband wireless services. The Administration supports exploring both commercial and government spectrum available for reallocation, and favors a spectrum inventory to determine how radio frequencies are currently being used and by whom. The [FCC] and NTIA also should explore ways to create incentives for more efficient use of limited spectrum resources, such as dynamic or opportunistic frequency sharing arrangements in both licensed and unlicensed uses. NTIA also supports research and development that leads to innovative new spectrum access technologies, because these can spur a new round of innovation that will increase domestic spectrum efficiency through sharing and opportunistic use."

NTIA concludes: "Based on the Department of Justice’s experience with other highly concentrated telecommunications markets, NTIA agrees with the Department that 'there are substantial advantages to deploying newly available spectrum in order to enable additional providers to mount stronger challenges to broadband incumbents.'"

Flashback: Wireless, Competition and the National Broadband Plan Justice Department Calls for Airwaves for Wireless (Bloomberg - Jan '10) NTIA to FCC: National Broadband Plan should include More Spectrum to Spur More Competition (NTIA)