FCC Greenlights 39 GHz License Transfer from FiberTower to AT&T

The FCC okayed the transfer of FiberTower’s licenses in the 39 GHz band to AT&T. The action completes a hurdle on the way for AT&T to close the stock purchase first announced in January 2017.

The agency found the likelihood of competitive harm from the deal is low. “AT&T’s post-transaction spectrum holdings across the 39 GHz bands do not raise any competitive concerns in light of the current state of the marketplace and our millimeter wave (mmW) spectrum holdings threshold,” said Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Don Stockdale in the decision released Thursday. “[W]e find that public interest benefits are likely to be realized from the transfer, including the expeditious use of this mmW spectrum for the potential introduction of innovative fifth-generation (5G) services to the benefit of American consumers.”

Post-transaction, AT&T will not trigger the mmW spectrum threshold of 1850 megahertz in any county subject to the proposed transaction, said the Commission. The carrier’s maximum spectrum holdings in any given county would be 796.8 megahertz.

In order to settle ongoing litigation with the agency over missing its build-out deadlines and get the deal approved, FiberTower last month agreed to give up all of its 94 licenses in the 24 GHz band and 595 licenses in the 39 GHz band. That leaves it with 478 licenses in the 39 GHz band. Additionally, AT&T agreed to pay the U.S. Treasury $27 million, Inside Towers reported.

The companies originally sought the Commission’s okay to transfer control of 514, 39 GHz licenses from FiberTower to AT&T. FiberTower and AT&T argued that the transaction would enhance competition by helping AT&T be a more effective competitor in the 5G world. T-Mobile and the Competitive Carriers Association wanted the FCC to auction FiberTower’s 24 GHz and 39 GHz licenses instead. Some of the former FiberTower shareholders opposed the deal; they argued that an earlier FiberTower bankruptcy proceeding was unfair to them because FiberTower’s spectrum holdings were valued at an artificially low level. Rural western carrier M&M opposed the deal as well.

The Commission found M&M’s argument moot because FiberTower agreed to surrender the two licenses that overlapped with M&M licenses. As for the T-Mobile and CCA arguments, the FCC finds allowing the license transfer will likely enable that spectrum to be deployed rapidly for 5G, serving the public interest. The agency also said the shareholder’s arguments relate to FiberTower’s bankruptcy proceeding and they’re not something for the agency to decide.

February 9, 2018   

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